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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6 thoughts on “Commentary on Redeemer Church Charlottesville Leaving SGM

  1. RCC could have been more explicit without “slinging bombs.” Focusing on polity might be the “polite” or politically correct way of finding a way out, but it doesn’t make it the right way. I long for men of courage to lead; they seem in short supply today.

    Why do SGM pastors seem to be content to ignore the fact that CJ, Dave, Brent, and Steve intentionally deceived us about Larry’s departure. We were all wronged and yet there has been zero repentance. Maybe you weren’t around when it happened, but it was a big deal. Sadly, the deception employed over the last year by tell half-truths does little to inspire us with any sense that anything coming from the SGM leadership team’s mouth can be trusted. Furthermore, when one of the largest newspapers in the country covers the story of how you blackmailed your former ministry partner, that constitutes a public scandal and disqualifies you from leadership. You don’t have to be a theologian to see that. Polity is the secondary issue. Sin is the primary issue. It is time for the dissenters to show some moral courage. Really, most of us are weary of it being all about CJ.

    • That’s a good, solid, and gracious word, Jenn. It’s not all about CJ anymore. It’s also about the Board, past and present, and the pastors. I continue in amazement that it appears the members are the ones calling for repentance. Leadership turned on its head; leadership from the ground up. If it must be this way, let it be.

      • I don’t think it’s only about CJ anymore but my point is probably one of general courtesy and grace. I think you should be argue vociferously, call individuals to account, highlight injustices, speak plainly and if necessary, even be provocative to get your point across. But you should do that before you plan to leave. Once you’ve decided to leave – once you’ve concluded they won’t listen, I’m not a big fan of making a stink as you leave. It’s like when we leave a job – even if the place is screwed up, I don’t think your letter of resignation is the “place” to be voicing your dissatisfaction

        Perhaps RCC could have been more explicit but I’m not sure you can fault them what they said – they were clear about diverging values.

        Here’s what we shouldn’t do – assume that they ought to call out CJ for any number of faults, simply because we think we’d do so in the same situation. Perhaps they weren’t more personally explicit because in their judgment – it’s really not just about CJ anymore.

  2. I am not suggesting a grocery list rehashing their grievances. I am suggesting that if it the failure of SGM leaders to listen to local pastors then they should be clear. “Consistent divergence” is a lame cop-out. If you really want to let your fellow pastors know you are leaving, give them the courtesy of an honest answer. Transparency is at the heart of SGM’s problems and to break free they need to show themselves as different. Also, is it really not just about CJ? Who has been driving every SGM decision since January? The decision to keep CJ as president was made before the board ever met to vote on it. Can you honestly say it isn’t about CJ any more? Where is Dave Harvey? Steve Shank? What does Aron Osbourne think about all of this mess? It always comes back to CJ.

    • I have spoken to few pastors – all understood exactly what RCC meant. I believe no one is confused about the reason for departure. Perhaps it would serve members of other churches but Keith B’s primary responsibility is to his church and i think the best judge of his response is the RCC membership

      • Maybe pastors in the beltway region understood his meaning but probably not outside of the beltway region. His primary responsibility is to God, then his church, but that does not release him from other responsibilities. I would be willing to bet there are pastors who are not even aware of which SGM churches have already left.

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