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.

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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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