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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One thought on “Commentary on Sovereign Grace Church Daytona Leaving SGM

  1. Well said, my friend! Really appreciate the seat belt word picture, so true! And so, we shall see what The Lord will do. Already sent my remarks to the author, may i encourage others to rally and express their support.

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