What’s Wrong with the SGM Polity Paper?

Aside

No one will ever mistake the sgmNation blog as being the leader in late breaking SGM news. Weeks after the SGM polity document was released, I have finally read through it with sufficient attention to detail so as to provide conclusive feedback.

It is a paper with many flaws, yet difficult to parse and point out because of its length and structure.  Rather than parse out sections in order to add commentary or draw attention to numerous overstatements/inconsistencies contained therein, I want to state three primary reasons why this proposed polity should not be accepted by any biblically minded local SGM church.

First, let us be clear that this paper outlines the kind of connectional association that impinges on the authority and autonomy of the local church.  Through the proposed structure, it seeks to establish an extra local body that extends its ecclesiastical jurisdiction into the life of the local church.    There is simply no biblical warrant for an ecclesiastical body outside of the local church to exert authority over the local church.  None.

One of the main supporting points for this position rests on Acts 15.  It is claimed in the paper that it evidences “governmental inter-dependency between local churches”.   Please pick up your Bibles for this one.  When you do, you will see the church at Antioch seeking clarity on a doctrinal matter – a convening of elders and apostles to discuss an important doctrinal point together.  What you will not see is any authoritative oversight by the Jerusalem church,  It does not appear that Paul, Barnabas or the Antioch church sensed any obligation to submit to the Jerusalem church,  Rather it demonstrated inter-church collaboration – the kind that could be had in SGM if the right attitude and polity prevailed.  Most importantly, the Jerusalem church did not function as an ecclesiastical body over and above any of the affairs of the Antioch church.  It would take significant imagination and poor handling of scripture to reach that conclusion.  Let me re-assert this point – there is no NT warrant to establish an extra local authority over the local church.

Second notable problem in the paper is the omission of any role of the congregation in the governing affairs of the church.   If your pastor is an SGM company man, he may try to convince you that this form of church government is presbyterian in nature.   I am no expert in presbyterianism but let me say this – every presbyterian denomination I know (and there are actually quite a few) allows for congregational affirmation of elders by vote.   Here is what SGM has done – having made a mess of polity over the past 30 years by creating their own blended version – they are now seeking to create their own brand of presbyterian polity by taking out parts that they don’t prefer – like the fundamental principle within the presbyterian representative model that the congregant has the right to vote to affirm their leaders.   It takes ignorance to make that polity mistake once, it takes arrogance to repeat it again.

Third issue with the paper?  Simply put -“why so convoluted?”   Do you notice how many levels of indirection are at play in getting to vote on the leadership team?   Let’s see – local ordained elders get to select Regional Leaders ….who in turn to affirm by vote the Governing Board…. but only after the Board candidates have been first nominated by the Nominating Committee, which the elders don’t have a say in selecting… the Governing Board will then select the Leadership team…blah, blah, blah”    There are a hundred different ways to make it simpler and more effective – so when you see a team work so hard to make it confusing, it does lead you to ask “why?”  Here’s my very subjective answer based on my observation.  I think in great part, SGM power brokers are struggling with balancing two opposing forces that create a tension.  The first is the need to stop the bleeding – of churches losing confidence in their leadership and possibly splintering off.   The second is the desire to hold onto relevance and power.   You see, opening up the election of elders to general membership or allowing pastors to vote in a Board and Leadership team directly may risk current players losing power or influence. The levels of indirection help diffuse the power of the “popular vote” which allows for more maneuvering and posturing.   I may be wrong but I cannot help thinking that this is part of their internal struggle, especially in view of how closed they have been and how hard they have worked to preserve CJ’s position as President.

Now that Ive covered the three issues that are most problematic, I will note other problems with the paper.  Without going into detail on each, let me list them quickly

- Continued harping on the necessity of “gifted men” overseeing and guiding churches.  In taking that position, the SGM paper make reference to 1st century apostles fulfilling that role, drawing from it parallels to justify the need for “gifted men”.  Yet, apart from a brief mention, this paper fails to fully recognize the unique qualification and role of the NT apostles – there are no modern day parallel.  If apostle Paul were to critique this position, he might say – ” I know apostles…some apostles are even friends of mine… you, SGM have no apostles…no matter what you call them”.

- Lack of acceptance of bi-vocational elders – even going so far as asserting that the NT “standard” is for paid elders.  Really, a standard?   Did anyone tell Paul that he was violating the “standard”?   Never mind, he was an apostle – I guess elders got paid but apostles got jibbed!   Friends, the NT didn’t establish a standard that elders are paid – it merely established that it was acceptable to pay elders.

The sympathetic pleas for unity, that are ill founded and self serving.   Don’t be duped – almost every NT admonition for unity pertains to unity within the local body, not for a unity that extends beyond the local congregation.   This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to be united with other believers in other churches but that there is no biblical obligation to maintain a binding unity in a modern day association other than the fact that we serve the same Savior and should exhibit this by loving each other.   If that were not so, SGM itself would be in violation of the spirit of unity because they are disunited from Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Anglicans, etc…

Finally, the stringent language tied to separating from SGM is disturbing.  It bears testimony to some of the heavy handed ways that underly how SGM operates.  I won’t belabor that point.

I’ll finish my comments with this –  if I were pastor of a local SGM church (which I am not), I could not, in good conscience, lead my church toward affirming this polity document.   It would certainly be pastorally irresponsible to sign onto this document without first gaining formal affirmation (read: vote) from the congregation.   This document binds the church in many ways that are significantly stricter from a contractual basis and no church should be signing this lightly.   As a member, I would not support a pastoral team that would unilaterally adopt this polity without seeking congregational approval.   It would be either ignorance or arrogance and both are not acceptable at this point.

The Reform We Need in SGM – Ethics and Culture

A few weeks back, I wrote about the need for polity reform in SGM.   However, there is another dimension of reform in SGM that is more difficult to describe, much less define.    It has to do with ethics and culture of SGM.   I am loathe to write this because as I mentioned in my last post, I am no longer optimistic about reform in SGM, save for the churches that are radically calling for change.  So this may very well be the last constructive critique of SGM from this blog other than to comment on other happenings as they occur.

Before I launch into the substance of areas in need of reform, let me say that there are many good things that I’ve received as a longtime member of an SGM church.   In fact, I plan to do a blog post on these benefits in the future.   However, in my mind, the good that we have received does not discount the present issues uncovered in the SGM culture.   I believe that both an appreciation for the good and a critique of the bad can co-exist.   And, SGM leaders should hear this – this doesn’t make for a disloyal or disgruntled member or church.  Often constructive loving critique is actually a sign of an engaged and caring membership.

I should also add that I offer this critique with a view that I play a part in this culture because of my long time participation.  To some degree, I reflect this ethical and cultural dilemma.  Also, let me say that this is not a comprehensive list but just my view into a few critical issues related to SGM ethics and culture.  I offer these humbly to any in SGM leadership who might listen.  With that said, here are the following  key ethical and cultural areas in SGM that have need for reform.

Love of Reputation  - This is a fundamental problem within SGM and has been for a long time, perhaps almost from inception.   I guess when you start (or join) a movement based on a belief that you’re going to do church better than others (i.e. restoration of the NT church), it shouldn’t be surprising that you end up in a less than desirable state.   In my humble opinion (and it is just an opinion), it seems to be a craving beneath the surface of the public face to be viewed as super-sound in principle, super-competent in practice and super-humble in disposition.  Unfortunately, all this adds up to a subtle kind of pride.

There can be pride in reading the right books and knowing the right doctrine. There can be pride in our ability to apply teaching. There can even be pride in being humble.  I believe that some of the over-the-top displays of faux humility is compensation for the underlying pride we know we carry around.   Outward displays of humility are easier to come by than true humility.  True humility is dependence on God.  True humility is forsaking everything for the treasure of Christ, even if it’s your stellar reputation.

Resistance to Acknowledging Corporate Faults and Mistakes.   Linked to the first point is a distinct inability to acknowledge mistakes and faults.   It’s why we never got a “we got it wrong” note that we changed our views on “apostles” or moved toward Reformed theology or when the understanding on sacraments were “clarified”.   These may seem more benign but in the past 15 months, we’ve come to see how the inability to say – “we messed up – we were wrong – we need to change” can be more insidious and damaging to the broader association of churches.   Some like John Loftness think the release of Brent’s documents led to suspicion of SGM and CJ.  That’s giving Brent and the blogs way too much credit.  Brent’s accusations would have been immediately neutered if what followed was a humble mea culpa.  Instead, we got excuses, defensiveness and a railing against critics.  It was the unveiling of this aspect SGM corporate culture that has given many of us concern and stolen our trust.

This is also evidenced in the way SGM corporate communicates .  In a style best described as old school PR, SGM is often too focused around positioning statements and talking points that offer the escape hatch of plausible deniability. (re: Louisville move).  Why not more straight talk and less spin?   It’s the only thing that works in this new social media world but more importantly, that’s how Christians ought to communicate with fellow partners in the gospel.

 Pastoral Exceptionalism – it’s a phrase goes to the heart of how many SGM pastors have related to their members.  It’s rooted in the idea that pastors are a special class – above the sheep – more wise, more attuned to God, more humble, etc…   It’s led to a culture in SGM churches that is distinctly pastor centric.   A ministry isn’t legit until a pastor is leading it or endorsing it.   This idea of pastoral exceptionliosm also rears its ugly head by the exercise of heavy handed oversight that is a carry over from the “shepherding movement”.   I do want to add that from what I’ve been told and have observed,, this is has changed and continues to change in many of the churches that are calling for reform – CLC, SGC Fairfax, Grace Church, San Diego, just to name a few.   But to deny that this exists in the movement overall…well, all I have to say is – read points #1 and #2 again.

Lack of respect for the priesthood of the individual believer.   I think this goes hand in hand with the prior point.  There is a low view of the individual believer that pervades the church culture.  It’s subtle so it can be difficult to spot.  It’s also not true of every church or every pastor.   But there is a lack of respect that God can powerfully work directly in the hearts and conscience of individual believers to understand and apply his word.   I’ve heard of pastors concerned that members may be having unsupervised bible studies, presumably because they have no control over what might be taught.  In most churches, members getting together to teach each other about God’s word would be celebrated, not feared.  Unfortunately, that’s what happens if you think of yourself as exceptional, your pastoral leadership as indispensable and the individual believer as incompetent to hear God’s word directly.   Sadly, this points to not only a low view of the believer as priest before God but also, a low view of Scripture.

Teaching Moralism vs Gospel Principles – I think this is something that exists in lots of churches so I’m not suggesting this is unique to SGM.   Interestingly, despite much emphasis on the gospel and the cross, there is still a lack of gospel practice exhibited in a willing acceptance of others who do not conform to certain traits – homeschooling, modesty checklists, personality quirks, etc…   I think it takes its biggest toll on our young people and perhaps on those for whom SGM is their first or primary church experience.

Being a gospel inspired church means being clear on what is gospel truth and what is subjective judgments on how to apply God’s word.   The first we must hold firmly to – live and die for.  The second is not worthy of such commitment and we must afford our fellow members liberty to apply God’s word as they see fit.    We need to permit celebrate the freedom for individuals to express themselves in the many and varied ways that are not inconsistent with biblical truth but instead reflect the image of God in them.

Commentary on Sovereign Grace Church Daytona Leaving SGM

Some of you have wondered why I’ve been silent in the last couple of months .   Here’s what I don’t like to admit but have had to come to terms with – formal reform within SGM is not coming and probably won’t ever come.   Marginal changes may occur but until this current batch of insiders (Mahaney, Loftness, Connelly, etc…) retire to an assisted senior living facility, it probably won’t happen.   Friends – there is no reform coming. The pastors that haven’t voiced their concern and disapproval of SGM corporate practices probably never will - they will lack courage borne of conviction.  They will prefer the easier road paved with the good graces of SGM corporate leadership, rather than the difficult path of leading their churches to a better place while experiencing rejection from their peers.   These are the corporate faithful, the company men who tow the company line – you find them in every large organization…and honestly there is nothing wrong with that - every company needs them.  It’s just not the kind of leader I want to follow.

On a separate note – it’s probably old news to most of you but Sovereign Grace Church, Daytona has “left the building” that is SGM.    You can find the entire letter posted on here on the SGM Refuge site.  What follows are excerpts from the letter and my commentary (in italics).

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[Excerpt] Our primary reasons for dissolving our partnership are:

1.  A loss of trust created by vague, one-sided and sometimes contradictory* communication, decisions that do not reflect stated priorities and goals, and also the failure to understand and take adequate responsibility for the patterns and problems that developed under the Leadership Team’s (primarily CJ’s) direction and example. (*without immediate explanation)

2.  A poorly defined but clearly perceived belief and practice of spiritual authoritythat has created a leadership culture characterized by excessive authority and insufficient accountability.

I will expand on both categories and make a connection between them

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[sgmNation Commentary] – The exercise of spiritual authority is an issue but I ‘ll focus on Jarvis’ first point – trust.  Without question, there has been a steady erosion of trust.   As I’ve stated before on this blog – trust and respect is earned through behavior and it is not kept by virtue of entitlement.   You may been afforded trust out of goodwill but you will sustain it by your actions.  SGM had the trust of the local church pastors but they assumed it was their God given right – they didn’t “handle with care” and they became offended when some godly, faithful pastors questioned their actions.   Instead, they should have asked – “why are these good men tempted to lose trust in us?”   Humble leadership – it’s what we’ve been taught – it’s what we believed – it just wasn’t exemplified by our SGM leaders when it counted.   False humility and catchy phrases like “better then I deserve” is a poor substitute for the real thing when it matters.    

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[Excerpt] The Loss of Trust

This has been a slow and difficult process for us that began with Dave Harvey’s email regarding Brent’s then forthcoming Documents.  We were indeed surprised by the content of the Documents and the way the Leadership team at the time responded to Brent’s concerns, appeals and charges.  Some of the problems he claimed to be systemic we had experienced, both locally and extra-locally, and we were eager to see changes take place within our family of churches.  We felt that God was moving to bring repentance, reform and revival to our church and the churches we love and have walked with for nearly three decades.  We had significant hope for what might lie ahead.  Our disposition toward the Leadership Team, while jolted by the awareness of what had transpired secretly between our chief leaders, was still primarily characterized by trust and a willingness to follow.  Over the course of the next 12 months however, that trust was steadily eroded by the responses of the team and the board(s).  Our initial eagerness to help build a culture of loyal dissent was reduced to a lack of confidence, and now ultimately to a lack of trust in the current board and leadership team.

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[sgmNation commentary] – I think Jarvis has captured well the disposition of most of the pastors.   Brent’s documents were concerning for what they revealed about the inner workings between the corporate leaders of SGM.   But at that point, I think most pastors still related to CJ, SGM corporate leadership in a trusting way.   This is what CJ, SGM Board didn’t get – they still had the trust of local pastors and members at that point.  We wanted an honest view of the issues – we wanted repentance – we wanted reform.   Sadly, what we received was shunning, public rebukes and insincere apologies.

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[Excerpt] In the recent response to the AoR report, John Loftness communicated the following on behalf of the board:

“C.J. was the object of an enormous amount of gossip and slander during this past year, and that has damaged his reputation, undermined his ability to lead, and created an atmosphere of suspicion in some quarters of our family of churches.”

While CJ assuredly was the object of gossip, we disagree that gossip was the primary source of what is deemed “an atmosphere of suspicion.”  The decisions made by the board(s) and leadership team over the past 14 months (which I won’t recount here) and accompanying communications are what created a fracture in the trust that the leadership team has enjoyed from us historically.

And more recently, as the frequency and detail of communication has improved (which we were encouraged by and grateful for), the perspective that the board communicated shows us the lack of understanding regarding these most critical issues of trust and authority.  The recent six-point letter from the board and follow-up phone conference with John and Ian reiterated this perspective that is foreign to our experience.  Additionally, withholding this perspective until now also reveals a lack of trust from the leadership team and board toward the pastors and people of SGM and an unwillingness to be influenced by our perspective and concerns.

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[sgmNation commentary] – Well said, Mr Jarvis.  I have no doubt that CJ has been slandered in some quarters… but actually so has Brent, so has Joshua Harris, so has anyone that SGM Corporate leadership deemed as disloyal.   Also, Loftness’ perspective sheds light on how the insiders think – CJ is a victim.   As a result, there is no need for him to own his primary contribution to the problems,  no need to genuinely confess remorse, no need to turn away from current practices.   SGM corporate leaders don’t realize that it was their response to the issues that ended up eroding trust, not the presenting issues captured in Brent’s documents.

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The final loss of trust for us comes as a result of a failure to:

  1. Understand and take adequate responsibility for the wrongs that have occurred,
  2. Restore and rebuild trust through listening, seeking to understand and being influenced by other perspectives,
  3. Provide open and clear communication and
  4. Act decisively with responses that reflect a heart of humility and compassion toward those you lead.

On the contrary, the board has made further appeals for trust and patience without sufficient effort to show trustworthiness.  This mutual vacuum of trust is a climate we cannot continue to follow in.

 [sgmNation commentary] – Amen

Authority

Although I have been unable to find a clear definition of the spiritual authority that has existed in our family of churches, it is not hard to perceive. As the AoR report notes:

“Leaders at every level in SGM have significant authority over others in submission to them.  While this in itself is not a problem, the misuse of authority…is a temptation common to man.” 

We agree with the report that SGM leaders have “significant authority” but we disagree that this is “not a problem.”  It is a problem; a very serious problem that slight adjustment and refinement will not address.  In the SGM response to the AoR report, the board commented,

“We…will continue to teach and counsel pastors in the appropriate use of the authority God gives them in the conduct of their ministry.”

It is our understanding from God’s Word that God does not give authority to men as we have seen it practiced, but rather that Jesus exercises his own authority through the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit in the hearts of His followers and pastors are called to administer God’s Word for and to God’s people.  Any additional authority or influence we have comes from our congregation’s affirmation, their trust and their willingness to follow our leadership, and it is not binding.  The level of authority exercised by SGM leaders (including our own pastors until recently) is unbiblical to us, and the current accountability of checks and balances is not only insufficient, but in our opinion incapable of providing the required balance.

One’s understanding of the nature and limitations of spiritual authority will necessarily shape one’s approach to developing and applying polity.  As a result, it is our opinion that polity changes, however drastic, will be ineffective in bringing real change to this dilemma unless there is first a fundamental change in the understanding of spiritual authority.  This is a main factor in our decision to end our partnership before the polity committee makes their final recommendation/decision.

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[sgmNation commentary] – much truth to what Mr Jarvis is saying.   The exercise of spiritual authority in some SGM churches is a holdover from the roots of shepherding movement borne in the 80s.   It also feeds off a low view of Scripture and dismisses the work of the Holy Spirit in the conscience of the individual believer.   And yes, getting the approach to spiritual leadership right is vitally important and perhaps even more so than polity.  But as we’ve come to understand, polity is the “seat belt” that keep us safe when fallen men crash and burn.

Well done and God speed, Jesse Jarvis and SGC Daytona – we will pray for you.  May your tribe grow.

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The Reform We Need in SGM – Polity

It’s been a quiet end to the summer for SGM.   The SGM polity committee “co-chaired” by Phil Sasser and CJ Mahaney held court in the middle of summer – with various churches participating by presenting polity papers.   By all accounts via various sources, it was conducted with civility and thoughtful interaction – which is encouraging.   What is less certain is what will transpire from all that input.  More importantly, we are now approaching what I believe to be a pivot point in the SGM debacle.   Polity decisions that will affect the future of SGM will be unveiled soon – likely around the time of the SGM Pastor’s Conference.   Will SGM grow up and morph into a maturing denomination or will it continue as CJ Mahaney’s personal ministry masquerading as a true equal partnership of local churches?  The coming months will bear the answer but I thought it would be a good time to outline some of the reforms that need to take place (at least in the mind of this member) so that SGM can actually move forward in a positive, God honoring direction.

There are two types of reform that are essential for this troubled family of churches.   The first area of reform is in polity.   The second is cultural and ethical in nature.  Although both are equally important, I will tackle the issue of polity first in this post and save discussion on the latter for another time.   I do apologize in advance for the length of this post – it is “Brent-like” in its length, if not style.

Regarding polity, there are six biblically founded principles that must be embraced and implemented in SGM as part of a “get well” plan.

1.  Jesus Christ as Head of the Church, Exercising His Authority Through His Word. (Colossians 1:18)  I hear some of you saying – “duh, how long did it take you to think of this point?”.   But it’s important not to assume this vital biblical principle and I believe among the ranks of SGM, we have, in fact, forgotten this.   The emphasis of human leadership has obscured this vital truth and the symptoms of this neglect is evident in many cultural practices and ethical issues within SGM.   I will cover them in greater depth in the next post.   Suffice it to say that the most egregious mistake we make in polity is when we look past the exercise of Christ’s authority through His Word.   When we think of polity, we too often start with governing structures and people, when we should actually start with God’s word.   Make no mistake about this – God actively exercises his authority in the life of His church through His word, and does so not dependent on human leadership.   Does God use human leadership?  Yes, unquestionably so but when fellow believers study the Bible together, God speaks to them through His Word and brings His authority to bear on their lives directly.

2. Local Church Autonomy.    Let’s clear up what I mean by autonomy. I understand that the term may raise the hackles of some SGM old-timers.  Autonomy is simply the right for self-government and it stems from the idea that a local church community is ontologically, the church of Jesus Christ in a given locale.  There is no biblical warrant for any authority outside of the local (read: apostle) exerting authority over the local church.  I’ll speak plainly – SGM has no right to exert any authority over any local church in its association unless the local church abdicates its local authority.  No apostolic person or function, no matter how gifted, has any biblical right to exert authority in spiritual matters over any local church.  (Please read Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch and my prior posts on apostles for scripturally based explanation).   Henceforth, any extralocal association must be non-authoritative, limited in scope and should involve representation from local churches.

3.  Defined Role of the Congregational in Governance.   The loose polity historically practiced by SGM is notable because there is no defined role for congregation in local church governance.   In each of the primary polity models, the congregation has a role to play in influencing how the church is governed.   For specifics on how different church polity structures make room for congregational participation, please refer to Who Runs the Church – 4 Views of Church Government.  The point is simply this – no matter what polity is decided on, no proven polity disregards the role of the congregation in the manner historically practiced by SGM.

4.  Established Rights and Responsibilities of the Church Body. What follows from (2) and (3) is that the entire church, defined by both congregation and leaders, has rights and responsibilities.   These include the responsibility to – a) recognize and confirm elders in the church.  b) exercise church discipline  c) receive new members into the church  d) assess doctrine (and to reject false doctrine).  Here are some scriptures to check out and consider – in 1 Cor 5, Paul urges the church (not just elders) to discipline a wayward believer;   similarly in 2 Thess 3, the responsibility to exercise discipline falls upon the church, not the pastors;  Acts 6 – the church selects leaders to tackle a problem related to congregational care;  Galatians 1:8, Paul makes it clear to the church (not just elders) that it is their responsibility to assess and if necessary reject unbiblical teaching – even if he himself were to preach it to them.

5.  Plurality of Eldership – in most of the New Testament, a clear pattern regarding elders emerge.   There is notable absence of the primary “senior” pastor as the top dog.  Instead, the elders are often described as a group and presumably functioned as a team.   In view of the prevailing influence of indwelling sin, the principle of plurality is meant to serve the pastoral team, rather than hinder it.

6. Non-professional Elders.   By this I mean that the definition of eldership should be completely and wholly biblical.   The standard for eldership should be biblical but should not preclude those who may make a living outside of the church.   In fact, this inclusion of non-professional/non-staff elders may be not only permissible – it may in fact be desirable and a blessing to strengthen church life.

I don’t pretend that the aforementioned principles are in any way comprehensive, nor the definitive word on polity but I humbly submit that adopting them would lend to a much healthier SGM association.

Commentary on Redeemer Church Charlottesville Leaving SGM

Redeemer Church of Charlottesville has officially left Sovereign Grace Ministries.   Below is a note sent out to all pastors in SGM yesterday.  My comments follow the end of the entire note from SGM.

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A Joint Statement: Redeemer Church of Charlottesville and Sovereign Grace Ministries

We want to let you know that Redeemer Church of Charlottesville has decided to end their association with Sovereign Grace Ministries.   Though saddened by this news, we are supportive of their decision. We are very grateful for the humble and careful way they have worked through this and the peaceable and respectful way we have been able to discuss our differences.  But mostly, we are grateful for the long relationship we have had with Keith Breault. He continues to be a man whom we love and respect. We wish him, his leadership team, and Redeemer Church great blessings and success in the future. Though separating in formal association, we are not separated in mutual affection, mutual respect, and mutual passion to see God glorified through gospel-centered local churches.

Below is a letter from Keith explaining this separation from their perspective.

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I’m writing on behalf of Redeemer Church of Charlottesville to inform you that on July 9th we separated from SGM.

As you can imagine, this decision was difficult for every member of our leadership team and for many in our church — who have a long history with SGM. We have enjoyed a rich partnership with SGM and thank God for the ways in which we have been trained, strengthened and fed through this wonderful group of believers. The relationships we’ve forged within SGM over the years are some of the dearest we possess, and we hope changing our affiliation won’t alter the deep fellowship God has wrought and nurtured.

Over the past year, we have been watching events unfold while simultaneously planting this new church in Charlottesville. Naturally, we have been evaluating SGM’s leadership in light of how it corresponds with our own priorities and values. “Consistent divergence” describes the dynamic between SGM’s leadership and our own instincts and convictions. We love the people of SGM and we love the leaders of SGM, but differences in some key areas make peaceful departure our best option.

This decision and its rationale were expressed in detail to SGM by letter on July 9, with our commitment to uphold respect and goodwill. In phone calls the following day with C.J. Mahaney, Dave Harvey, and Mickey Connolly — and a conference call Thursday between Mickey and our leadership team — we exchanged expressions of mutual encouragement and respect for our varied perspectives. We also exchanged commitments to conduct this transition peaceably, with the Gospel in mind, wishing each other maximum joy and fruitfulness as we all continue to follow Jesus.

Thank you for your friendship and support throughout our years of SGM partnership. We invite your prayers as we continue spreading the Gospel in Charlottesville.

With our brotherly love, in Christ
Keith Breault

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sgmNation Commentary:

To put some context behind this decision, bear in mind that Redeemer Church Charlottesville (RCC) is a relatively new church plant.   It’s headed up by Keith Bereault – formerly with the Chesapeake Church.   You can read more about him here.

Also without commenting on the merits of staying versus going, I think it’s fair to say that it’s always hard to be the first in any difficult decision.  So for RCC to step out in this direction is courageous.  I commend them for following their convictions and making an emotionally difficult decision

I also commend RCC for taking the high road in the letter of separation.   I know some have said that Keith’s letter should have explicitly called out CJ and other leaders in SGM.   I think while it may have made some of us feel better, I don’t think it’s the right approach.   The time to make any significant points is before you leave – when you’re in the mode of seeking change/reform – not when you’re making a separation statement.   Call out the lack of communication, the messed up polity, the hubris before you leave, not as you’re leaving.   Once you decide to leave, you ought to find a way to do so as peaceably as possible.  This doesn’t mean backing down from your convictions – it just means not slinging bombs while heading for the exit.

I think the discerning reader can detect some of RCC’s frustration and disappointment in the way SGM has handled the entire, sad episode.  Note the following -

“…we have been watching events unfold….  we have been evaluating SGM’s leadership in light of how it corresponds with our own priorities and values….”Consistent divergence” describes the dynamic between SGM’s leadership and our own instincts and convictions.”

I’ve maintained that the change we need at SGM has two components – polity and cultural.   I will perhaps expand on that some more in a future post but suffice to say - we can get polity right but if you don’t trust the leadership culture (and the leaders), you’re not going to follow… much less invest your life into SGM.

Interestingly, in some respects, I’d argue that it’s easier to make the break as a young, small church rather than a church with lots of history in SGM.   The larger the church the harder it’ll be.  Moving an “oceanliner” with historical SGM ties like CLC or SGC Fairfax isn’t quite as easy and should be done carefully.   Long standing churches in SGM have members who feel defrauded and disappointed inter-mingled with those who feel loyalty and sentimental over the SGM association.   I wonder how this decision might affect the posture of my friends at CLC, SGC Fairfax and many of the churches in FL.   I know they’ve been committed to reforming SGM – will this RCC decision give them pause?  I don’t think there’s any clear cut answer regarding the “right path” which only emphasizes the need for us to pray for the pastors of the many churches that are seeking reform.

What the SGM Polity Process Tells Us About SGM

Dear sgmNation readers – This is a letter sent by SGM Polity Chair, Phil Sasser to pastors back in June.   I’m posting this in response to questions by some as to why the process is confidential.   Since the question was asked, I thought it might be interesting to some of you.   If I can’t make the papers available, I could at least shed some light on the process.  [Note: bolding is by me for emphasis]

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Dear Fellow Pastors,

We have been encouraged by your response to the planned polity presentations in Louisville next month.  Several pastors have indicated a desire to make a presentation, and we are looking forward to hearing from them.  Many more have expressed a desire to listen to the polity presentations.   In light of this, Tommy Hill and the SGM staff have found a suitable venue to accommodate additional seating for these presentations at the Legacy Hotel. As previously announced, the polity presentations will take place on July 10-11 and July 24-25.  These presentations are only open to SGM pastors, the Leadership Team, and staff supporting the Committee. 

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[Pastors presenting papers, pastors expressing a desire to hear presentations, are welcomed but not ordinary, regular members.   Should a local church should seek to include members, it is apparently not welcomed.   The letter even ends with instructions to a password secured website accessible only by pastors [not included in this blog post].  Mike Bradshaw who authored those instructions reminds everyone that – “resources are confidential materials that are intended for the sole use of SGM pastors.”.

Just stop and think about that for a moment – why are ordinary members treated as 2nd class citizens in SGM?  Here’s the answer:  pastoral exceptionalism – yes, it’s a phrase I’m coining but it so appropriately describes the SGM culture. 

Pastoral Exceptionalism = “Pastors are special, pastors are above questioning, pastors are wise, pastors know best”.  And all members who buy into this foolishness will deserve what they get.   Don’t get me wrong – as I’ve mentioned many times before – I love my pastors – they are among my dearest friends – so this isn’t about respecting the office of the pastor/overseer. They would never subscribe to such exceptionalism and that’s why they have earned the trust of many who know them.  I pray for their tribe to increase in SGM because far too few pastors think and live this way.]  

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The Polity Committee has set aside two additional days (July 12 and July 26) in order to discuss and process what we’ve heard from you; these meetings will be with the Committee members only.  SGM Board members have been invited to sit in on the Committee’s meetings, but only to listen.  The presentations will begin at 8AM on July 10, so if you’re planning to attend we’d recommend you arrive in Louisville on the evening of July 9.  At this point, we will assume that the July 24-25 meetings will have the same start time.  If you wish to make a presentation, please send me your paper and indicate that you would like to present; and I will put you on the schedule.  If you have a preference for when you would like to present, let me know and I will try to accommodate your request.  Of course, you may elect to send a paper without actually making a presentation if you so desire.

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[Truth be told - there was far too little time given to allow pastors to even consider the topic of polity in a meaningful way, much less, give themselves to study or write a paper.   It's either poor management or cleverly designed process to minimize opposing views]

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All of you who plan on attend (but not present) please contact Nora Earles at xxxxxx@sovgracemin.org so that she can reserve a place for you to observe the presentations.  For those pastors who can’t attend the polity presentations, we will post all of the papers (assuming we get permission from the authors) on a password protected website. Directions for how to use this website can be found at the conclusion of this letter. You are all welcome to view the papers.  We will post them as soon as we have the author’s permission to do so. We hope the creation of this website will be helpful to you.

The Committee members will seek to make themselves available to talk to any Sovereign Grace pastor at any point in this process.  The Committee’s work of formulation and writing will likely not begin until early August.  We realize that we have established an aggressive timeline.  At the same time, we are committed to doing a good job.  If upon further review, we do not think that we can meet our objectives by the fall of this year, we reserve the right to adjust the timeline. Please know that we will do our very best to serve you in this process.

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[SGM procrastinated on the polity issue for years and now they want to wrap it up in a matter of days, months... this is absurd - there's too little time for them to be in a hurry over something as important as this.  This is about control - asserting it, maintaining it and propagating it for the next phase of SGM]

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On behalf of the Polity Committee,

Phil Sasser

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[It's instructive that Phil Sasser is functionally leading the Polity Committee and not CJ.  I think it's a clear acknowledgment that CJ does not have the requisite skill and mind to tackle these issues... which is ok.   But why then must we continue to prop him up as the figurehead Chair of this committee - would it hurt to just say, Phil Sasser will chair the committee and CJ Mahaney will watch from the "cheap seats"?  The answer:  SGM is actually the CJM ministries - it's CJ's world and we're all actors in it. 

Finally, here's my challenge to all SGM pastors who presented or sent in papers - you are the authors, you have rights over the content - make a statement by posting this openly to your local churches and to the SGM church network at large.  Members, especially members of your local church deserve to have access to this.   There is nothing to fear. ]  

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SGM Humor Moment – The Most Interesting Apostle…

Things with SGM are so ridiculous, it’s getting beyond absurd – it’s now ludicrous.   So I’m kicking off a new series of occasional posts entitled – SGM Humor Moment.  I wish I have enough material to do a post every week but I’m neither that funny or prolific.   However, we need to take a break from this serious business of SGM reform from time to time so here’s the first (and possibly last)

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SGM Humor Moment

[tagline: We need learn to laugh at ourselves, because everyone else is]

Since SGM is making a new start in Louisville, what’s needed for this exciting new chapter is a brand new commercial for SGM featuring CJ Mahaney.

Please cue the appropriate music from the Dos Equis commercial.

“He has recanted from confessions he has yet to make”

“His polity committees are stacked for success”

“He makes temporary Presidencies last forever”

“He is the Most Interesting Apostle in the World”

[Cut to CJM - looking into camera] :  “I don’t often switch churches, but when I do, I prefer to leave town altogether…Stay humble, my friends”

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What do you think?

Note to SGM/CJ boosters: please no hate mail – I don’t have personal beef with the man – just having some fun here.  Cheers!