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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12 thoughts on “What the SGM Polity Process Tells Us About SGM

  1. I find it amusing, in light of constant SGM references to Spurgeon, that Spurgeon was a staunch congregationalist.

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0NXG/is_3_34/ai_94161024/

    “Spurgeon insisted finally that Christ required congregational church government or independency. Each congregation should govern itself independently from all other churches or church hierarchies. Each church was autonomous and capable in itself of exercising all the functions of a church of Christ. The members of the church jointly exercised church power–Christ delegated final authority to the congregation. “The independency of Scripture is to be practiced still,” Spurgeon taught. “Each church is to be separate … without being disturbed by the opinion of any other church.” Each church made its own decisions, Spurgeon taught. “I believe in the glorious principle of Independency. Every church has a right to choose its own minister.” (4)”

    It is also amusing that John Owen, perhaps the greatest Reformed theologian in the English language, was also a congregationalist (although most of the other great Reformed theologians had a Presbyterian model), and all these years SGM with their top down RCC model ( with CJ as Pope) prefessed to be better than any other denomination in 2000 years.

    The Reformation sought to abolish the clergy-laity distinction regarding free access to God in spiritual things, while SGM sought to reintroduce the middle ages with priests( pastors) who had spiritual access and insight not available to the common man.

    Don’t get me wrong- I stand with Wayne Grudem who lists all the polities, points out the various scriptural presuppositions for most of them, and concludes that this is one area where scripture is not crystal clear and various polities are all acceptable. I am not saying one needs to be congregational, or elder ruled, or Presbyterian, or anything else. I suspect God can bless all of the models when people are living for His glory and not for themselves. And none of them will work as God desires, when control is the primary goal.

  2. Joshua Harris indicated to me that CLC’s polity position paper will be available online in a few days. I’m assuming that it will be posted on the CLC members’ only blog, but Josh did not indicate exactly where online it would be available. I’m thankful that CLC members will be able to read it.
    I believe that all SGM pastors should post their respective polity papers.
    Diane Kummer

  3. If you are a pastor who believes that your considered perspective on polity is only of use to a small subset of the church: the “elder echelon,” if you will, what does that say about your theology?

    SGM: if posting the papers online is considered to be of use and benefit to pastors, why would it not also be of use and benefit to interested members?

    I used to know Mike Bradshaw. At one point I liked and respected him. I have not talked with him in many years, so I cannot speak to his present character. But that my brother, with whom I once fellowshipped, would condone and facilitate this sort of – what sgmNation accurately terms “pastoral exceptionalism,” is grieving. I am sad that he would allow himself to be used this way, and sadder if he believes it is right that pastors should be considered so above (rather than apart of) the people of God, that this discussion cannot take place openly and publicly.

    I expect – from long acquaintance with this way of thinking – we might, if they gave an explanation, hear that this is happening to prevent divisions between the churches and so the organization may speak with one voice after the polity committee makes its recommendation and the board adopts it. But their secretive behavior will not prevent those who are interested and engaged from seeking biblical wisdom in their understanding of polity, regardless of the conclusion SGM comes to. And pastors: you should be very aware that God has called you to live openly with the people he has called you to shepherd and to search the Scriptures with them on this matter – not to simply adopt whatever SGM hands down to you regardless of your own convictions.

    Polity is, maximally, a second tier issue, a matter that is not essential for salvation or historic Christian orthodoxy, but which divides denominations along lines of conviction. I can fellowship in a community of believers even if I disagree with the polity of the church, just as I can fellowship with those with whom I differ on any number of other issues. But the attitude I am still waiting to hear from SGM is one of “come, let us search the Scriptures together, and see what we may learn on this subject that has so impacted our churches”…

    Before there was a polity committee, I had an interesting and open (there were other people around and listening) conversation with one of the members of the present polity committee after his sermon at my SGM church (before I left). I was questioning why church members had never been told that SGM was having ongoing discussions about polity for some time before this crisis and why I had to go to a non-SGM blog to read the transcript of his own talk on the subject to pastors. His opinion was that it wasn’t SGM’s job to relay such information to church members; that their pastors could do so if they thought the congregation should know. Of course the pastor of my church had already told me that he hadn’t told the church because he didn’t think SGM wanted him to. 😦

    That was the double-speak ten months ago. Now they post a picture of the presentation of papers in Louisville on FB and ask for prayer but the papers are still secret. Is that a substantive change?

    • I agree that polity is a secondary issue – the problems w SGM are both cultural and polity related. Cultural in the sense that attitudes such as pastoral exceptionalism, a reliance in counseling methodologies leading to “sin sniffing”, etc… are probably more problematic then polity issues

      • I spoke with one of the elders at my church, he was told that SGM wasn’t publicly releasing the papers because they were the property of the pastors/churches that wrote them. :shrug: I guess it doesn’t seem such a big deal to me anymore (it was when I first heard about it). It’s up to individual pastors and churches to release their papers.

      • Thomas – I think your pastor did a great job spinning that and perhaps it’s true…in which case SGM communicated really poorly because they could have said – “we do not plan to release these submissions since we consider them to be the property of the pastors who authored them”

  4. Pingback: Sovereign Grace Ministries: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss | The Wartburg Watch 2012

  5. That sounds like double speak after they told the pastors not to release them. Maybe ask the pastor if there was an email that expressed SGM’s preference on whether pastors release their own papers. I agree that pastors can release their own papers but if SGM has put their thumb on the scale by telling them not to, that doesn’t make it easy to do so.

  6. The way the polity is being prepared by a small elite committee with only pastors deemed qualified to give viewpoints and only on just four days is ripe for creating more problems than they solve. There is a great trust issue with SGM and CJ and the small committee co-chaired by one of the prime figures in the trust issue is not a trust builder. The restricted input from pastors, the secret nature of the shared documents, and rushed overall process will create distrust in the results even if they came up with the most wonderful polity ever created. As our model, the new testament does not hold anything secret back about the inner workings of the apostles, their disagreements, struggles with each other in discerning the leading of the Lord, and various other church problems.
    For a true and honest polity preparation there should be a representative from each church in the SGM sphere with an equal vote. This would ensure everyone is on the same level, air and discuss beliefs honestly and vigorously, and come to a true concensus as to what God wants for SGM government.
    While I believe that the men on the board that are genuinely trying to follow the leading of the Lord I also have to believe that 30 years of SGM culture, long standing relationships, a small committee, and our own sin nature is a recipe for potential problems in the results or the perception.
    I have been a member of a SGM church for over 30 years and I hope that SGM truely reforms and we move on to do greater things for Jesus. The events of the last year have been painful but they also opened up a number of suppressed problems with the movement overall. My greatest disappointment was in the leadership in this time. The erratic behavior of CJ and the corporation style responses at times SGM just did not give me much confidence in them and left me questioning “what are they doing?”.

    • James,

      I agree about no secrecy. My church didn’t end up writing a paper, because of the extremely short deadline. They did ask “numerous questions” and the congregation is getting a full update on the process and interactions with SGM in a few days. And for the record, my church is going to include members from the congregation in its polity study/writing group

    • James – you make a couple of interesting points and one of which is that SGM/CJ tend to respond w secrecy – in stark contrast to the NT’s brutal honesty of apostolic failures, church problems etc…

  7. CJ is in town this week, can I tell you how excited I am?
    Well, we have heard nothing about polity, position papers (our own or anyone else’s), or ANYTHING about SGM from our our counsel of 5 in weeks. It seems as if the storm has passed and it’s smooth sailing from here on out. Sad, sad.

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