A letter was recently issued to the pastors of local SGM churches regarding the polity committee formed and commissioned by SGM Board of Directors. I have included excerpts of the letter (in italics) with a few comments interspersed.
As you were informed last week, the Board of Directors of Sovereign Grace Ministries has appointed a committee to propose a future governance structure and partnership agreement for our family of churches. The Board realizes that its present role is to lead SGM through significant changes in polity. The Board is working from some constraints of the existing polity and bylaws with a view to transitioning SGM to a different governmental structure that involves more participation by the pastors of its member churches. Our history together in Sovereign Grace has been characterized by much grace, but we have been aware for some time now of the pressing need for further ecclesiological definition. It is our intent that the changes we make be informed by our common history and involve the robust participation of our pastors, with sound doctrine as our ultimate guide. The Board has not yet determined whether the new polity proposal will be submitted to a formal vote of the pastors or a less formal process of affirmation.
We should duly note the same leader who led us into this disorder now chairs the polity committee. To my mind, the fact that the committee is chaired by CJ Mahaney, speaks the disingenuous posturing by both the Board and Mr. Mahaney himself. Prior to his return to President, there was much posturing that this would be temporary and that the Board would quickly seek a new President. From all appearances, this was not their intent.
Also note that this is furtherance of the elitist, top down control mentality that has pervaded the way SGM has run for years. ”We will figure it out and when we do, we’ll let you know”. I don’t know about you but the “less formal process of affirmation” didn’t work so well in the appointment of the new Board. The disregard of the input of approximately 20 churches stands as a stark reminder of the way the “process of affirmation” works in SGM-land.
The bylaws of SGM state that any committee appointed by the Board of Directors must have two members from the Board. We have added to that three other pastors and two members of the Leadership Team. Here is the Polity Committee:
C.J. Mahaney, Co-Chairman (Leadership Team, President of SGM)
Phil Sasser, Co-Chairman (Board Member, Pastor, Sovereign Grace Church, Apex, NC)
Paul Buckley (Board Member, Pastor, King of Grace Church, Haverhill, MA)
Matthew Wassink (Pastor, Providence Community Church, Lenexa, KS)
Jared Mellinger (Pastor, Covenant Fellowship Church, Glen Mills, PA)
Bruce Chick (Pastor,-Sovereign Grace Community Church, Roanoke, VA)
Jeff Purswell (Leadership Team, Dean of SGM Pastors College)
Once again, this is what you call stacking the deck. The omission of anyone from two of the largest and most influential churches in the network of churches is notable – why is neither CLC or SGC Fairfax represented on the committee? Besides those two churches, there are other knowledgeable and wise pastors marginalized from this process – and that is disappointing. Please read over the names of the polity committee again – do you believe these men, with their predisposition to maintain status quo and current power structure, will capably invent a polity structure that is consistent with biblically sound and common wise practices? The following excerpt from the letter indicates their propensity to maintain current power structures.
Let it be noted that SGM as a family of churches has enjoyed a rich history together. There are many doctrinal positions upon which there is widespread unity within SGM. As a result, the Board believes that there are some areas that should be preserved in our future polity. Here are the three important areas to be preserved.
a. SGM churches are elder-led. This has been taught and firmly established for decades. Of course there are many questions about the specific qualifications of those elders, how they are selected, how they are ordained, and the nature and scope of their authority, which will need to be examined.
b. Extra-local leadership has also been a part of our history. This will definitely inform our approach, but the Board of Directors realizes that there are many questions about extra-local ministry which must be answered. These include the nature of extra-local authority, the basis of that authority, the extent of that authority, and the means and methods by which that authority is exercised in the local church.
c. SGM as a family of churches has historically been committed to planting and caring for local churches. This mission is essential to all that we stand for; we are determined to continue in this mission. The Board also realizes that there is much to be discussed, determined, and defended concerning the mission of the church and the ecclesiological status of SGM.
Regarding (a) , Is the selection of local church elders, the purview of a organization outside the local church? There is no warrant for SGM to exercise such authority over the local church. In fact, any local eldership that surrenders that authority to an extra-local body is acting in out-of-step with biblical principle and abdicating governing responsibility.
Regarding (b), this is what you call self-interest/self-preservation. Indeed, there are many questions to be answered including the relevance of a body that exist outside of the local church that seeks to exercise authority or leadership of the local church.
Regarding (c), local churches plant new churches – that is the biblical model. What role does SGM play since they have no biblical right to exert authority over local churches? Perhaps they could function in a similar way to a Missions Board but the scope of their function should be limited and under the direction of the local churches.
There is much more to the document but I sincerely do not wish to further the analysis of their letter, especially in a negative tone or in a nit-picking manner. I merely wanted to call out relevant areas that signal the continuance of a top-down leadership style in the hands of insiders. This my friends, is not reform, no matter how SGM seeks to package it.