Joshua Harris Asks Covenant Life Church to Leave Sovereign Grace Ministries Over Ungodly Leadership Culture
The pastors of Covenant Life Church have asked their members to vote in favor of severing ties with Sovereign Grace Ministries due to “a fundamental difference on how leadership and pastoral ministry should be practiced and applied.” The focus of the pastors has finally shifted to ethics and away from polity after 15 months of repeated abuse. The proud authoritarian culture created and sustained by C.J. has forced his friends and home church of 35 year to leave the ministry in all probability.
What follows is the transcript of Joshua Harris’ comments at the recent meeting for church members. I’ve add commentary.
Covenant Life Church Members Meeting
November 4, 2012
Thank you so much for coming tonight.
I mean that very sincerely. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to be here at this Members Meeting. It’s a statement of your love for God’s glory and God’s people that you care about the plans and direction of your church. Your engagement in these issues is a great encouragement to the whole pastoral team...
I need to begin by saying that tonight’s meeting is just for Members of Covenant Life and those currently pursuing membership. And so if you’re not a member, I’d like to respectfully ask that you excuse yourself when we take time to pray in a few minutes. Please honor our desire to have a private conversation as a church family. And for the rest of us, I want to ask you not to share the content of tonight’s meeting with people beyond our church. Feel free to talk to other members and fill in members who couldn't be here. But we’d like this evening to be a “family” not a “public” conversation.
I wrote a letter to all the pastors at Covenant Life regarding their request to keep the contents of the Members’ Meeting confidential. See My Appeal to the Pastors of Covenant Life Church for Biblical Transparency (November 9, 2012.
Tonight our main focus is to talk about where we believe God is directing us as a church—particularly in regard to our relationship with Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Now as many of you know, Sovereign Grace Ministries was recently sued. I want to state very clearly that we planned the focus for tonight’s meeting prior to becoming aware of the lawsuit.
Before we move on to the primary focus of our meeting I do want to say a few things about the issues surrounding the lawsuit. I hope you understand that because this is an open suit, we cannot discuss details of the case. But I think it’s helpful to make a few simple points:
- First, we regard abuse of any person as sin, and such sin is especially reprehensible where it involves children.
- Second, we are strongly committed to the protection of children with the active enforcement of best practice child protection policies.
- Third, our church has not been sued and there are no allegations in the Complaint that any past or present pastor of CLC has committed child abuse. Neither is there an allegation in the Complaint that any other employee or agent of Covenant Life committed any child abuse.
- Fourth, there is no allegation in the Complaint that any act of child abuse occurred on Covenant Life property or under its supervision and control.
- Fifth, our church has had for many years a robust child protection policy.
- Sixth, if a member of the church is a convicted sexual offender, under the church’s child protection policy, significant safeguards are put in place to protect children attending church activities.
I want you to know that I care about these matters not just because I’m a pastor—I care about them because I’m a father. I have three children in this church and our children’s ministry. So this is very personal and very important to me, just as it is to you.
Our Main Focus Tonight
But now let’s turn our attention to our primary focus tonight. Let’s talk about the issue of our church’s participation in Sovereign Grace Ministries. And let me state again, this was not influenced by the lawsuit or its allegations. We came to a place of clarity and unity as a pastoral team before we knew anything about the lawsuit.
This is the first of several occasions when Joshua highlights the clarity and unity of all 18 pastors.
We believe the healthiest thing we can do as a church is to stay focused on our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ built on the word, empowered by the Spirit, and going with the gospel.
And that’s the main reason why we think it’s important for us to press ahead tonight and bring you into the thinking of the pastoral team about our relationship with SGM. We believe that bringing clarity to this relationship is a vital part of our church moving forward and staying on mission.
The “healthiest thing” CLC can do is leave SGM as a “vital part of our church moving forward and staying on mission.” I agree. The direction SGM is taking presents great encumbrances to the churches and robs them of their biblical freedom.
Before we begin, I want to read a Scripture and pray. God’s Word in James 1:2-5 says this:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
Our church has certainly encountered “trials of various kinds” in the last two years. “Various kinds” is an interesting way of putting it, isn’t it?
The period we’ve been walking through has affected us all differently. For some, this has been a confusing and troubling in the life of our church. Others may feel less affected and wonder what all the stir is about. Regardless of our particular response, this has been a time of trial, and we have needed the Lord’s help every step of the way. None of us have walked perfectly. I think most of us would say there’s been ample temptation to sin in our words and attitudes all along the way. God has surely gotten our attention, and maybe not in a way we might have preferred or prescribed. But he has ordained this time of trial for us to walk through together, and he determines the boundaries. God is testing the genuineness of our faith and working his good purposes in us; he is with us in this difficult season.
The most “confusing” thing for CLC members was C.J.’s lack of accountability for over a decade. The most “troubling” was his hypocrisy. He was not living what he taught them on many different fronts. C.J. abruptly leaving CLC in August 2011, announcing SGM’s relocation to Louisville in April 2012, and never returning to CLC to confess his sins made for “trials of various kinds” and a “difficult season.” And those are only a few lowlights. C.J. has badly mistreated Covenant Life Church and their pastors.
God calls us to count a time like this all joy. Not to complain. Not look for an easier path. Not to doubt God. But to thank him and trust that this testing of our faith is producing steadfastness in us. Let’s pray to that end...
All they have walked through has produced good fruit in the form of repentance and significant changes in leadership practices. The same is not true of SGM.
As we begin I would ask you to remember that the issues surrounding our relationship with SGM are for many very personal and emotional. Keep in mind that the person sitting next to you may have a different perspective than you. Let’s remember that our unity because of the gospel is bigger than our differences about these matters. So regardless of whether you agree or disagree with what I share tonight, I want to ask you to refrain from expressing yourself. Please don’t clap or say “amen!” And I’d be grateful if you don’t boo. Let’s seek to maintain the unity we have in the Spirit.
Severing ties with SGM is for “many very personal and emotional.” I vividly remember how hard it was for me to leave even though it was clearly God’s will.
At our last Members’ Meeting in June, I told you that when it came to our relationship with SGM, your pastors would not simply “hand down” a decision to you. We would engage you in our thinking and then get your feedback and counsel before making a final decision.
And this is exactly what we want to do tonight. We are not announcing a decision. We are putting forward the direction we believe God is giving us. We have clarity and unity as a pastoral team in this direction. But we want to process this with you.
The result of our times of prayer and discussion over the past several months, and culminating with our pastors’ retreat last month, is a clear sense that God is leading us on a diverging path from SGM.
For some of you this may come as a surprise. We’ve told you in the last year our confidence in SGM has been shaken and that there are mutual disappointments. But you might have assumed these differences would be worked out in the polity process. What we have seen more clearly in the last few months is that the differences we have with SGM go beyond issues of polity.
This is an important paragraph. All the CLC pastors have come to see with clarity the unethical and abusive conduct of C.J., the Leadership Team and the Board of Directors. Their confidence, that is their trust, has been shaken and that is an understatement. Their profound concerns for SGM go beyond polity. That is the primary reasons for leaving SGM.
Over the past year there has been a growing clarity for our pastoral team that we think about and approach leadership differently than SGM. Our pastoral team has a different perspective on organizational behavior, aspects of the history of our movement, the most appropriate response to the weaknesses of our movement, and how decisions should have been made and communicated in the past year. The cumulative effect of all these concerns is a lack of confidence in the organization and a lack of faith for ongoing participation. We have a fundamental difference on how leadership and pastoral ministry should be practiced and applied.
I’m sure the pastors worked hard on crafting this paragraph. They don’t go into detail, which they should, and they use morally neutral language, which they shouldn’t, but this statement references core issues. I take “organizational behavior” to be a reference to the conduct of C.J., the Leadership Team and the Board of Directors. “Aspects of the history” to the abusive treatment of former leaders and members by C.J., et al. “Response to the weaknesses” as an unwillingness to acknowledge wrong doing. “How decisions should have been made and communicated” to the proud, independent, partial and heavy handed way decisions were executed and imposed. Bottom line, the CLC pastors “have a fundamental difference on how leadership and pastoral ministry should be practiced and applied.” Read that again. A “fundamental difference” about the practice and application of leadership and pastoral ministry. C.J., Dave Harvey, John Loftness, Mickey Connolly and others have never seen or acknowledged their abusive leadership practices.
We had planned to make a final decision about our participation in SGM after the polity process was finished (we’ve learned this will be sometime potentially in March). But there is a growing consensus on our team that it may be in the best interest of our church to make this decision sooner rather than later.
The pastors planned to ride it out to the end and not upset the apple cart but growing concerns for the unethical leadership of SGM moved up their decision. They now see leaving SGM as in the best interest of the church. That is a remarkable statement no one could have imagined 1½ years ago.
Here’s the bottom line for us: In light of our fundamental differences, we think remaining a member church in SGM would be a distraction both for our mission and the people of our church. We believe our first priority and commitment must be to the mission God has given us to proclaim the gospel and make disciples here in our community.
Joshua should have spelled out their “fundamental differences” is greater detail but what follows is helpful.
I’d like to take time now to fill out some background on this direction and hopefully answer a few questions I anticipate you might have...
Why We’ve Waited
Some of you may feel we should have made this decision a long time ago. You may be wondering why we’ve waited so long to come to this conclusion.
Several reasons: First, we made a commitment to each other and the church not to rush this significant decision. We wanted to give ample time to process and understand the viewpoint of SGM and to see what unfolded under the tenure of a new Board. We wanted to take time to communicate with the new Board and understand their perspective. We felt it was important to have the July 6 meeting with the new Board where we could share our thoughts in person. We thought it would be wise to wait for the Board to write to the movement about the meeting. These events played out over the course of the summer months, and we have taken time to process them.
The CLC pastors wanted to see how C.J., Dave and the Interim Board responded to my documents and the feedback they were receiving from Joshua and the pastors. In essence, all of us who provided constructive criticism were condemned for slander, disloyalty and divisiveness.
The CLC pastors also wanted “to see what unfolded under the tenure of a new Board” which was installed in March, 2012. But the new Board, was not so new. John Loftness, Mickey Connolly, and Craig Cabaniss were on the previous Board and reappointed by C.J. and Dave to the new Board. John was made the Chairman of the Board. Tragically, the new Board acted like the Interim Board. No surprise but a lot of disappointment.
Why We Believe It’s Time to Act Now
Some of you may have a different question: “Why are you acting now instead of waiting till all the issues with polity are finalized? Haven’t you said a number of times that you planned to wait until SGM redefined itself?”
The answer again is a growing realization that the primary differences are not matters of polity and will not be resolved by polity changes. Yes, now that we have seen the polity proposal, we have points of disagreement that we will touch on briefly tonight. But we believe the issues we’ll be walking you through tonight are bigger than polity.
If it’s not about polity and polity changes won’t resolve anything than what is “bigger than polity?” You got it. Christian character and conduct. That is why the pastors are compelled to leave SGM now and not later. Even if polity changes, C.J.’s character has not changed.
Several events in the past few months have helped inform our thinking on this important decision. They include: Communication leading up to our July 6  meeting with the new Board, the meeting itself, the two letters from the Board that followed the meeting, and subsequent communications from SGM. The September letter from SGM’s Board in which they shared their view on six key decisions of the past year was particularly clarifying for us. It helped confirm our perspective that while SGM has made some changes they are not significantly changing their prior course and approach to leadership. All of these events have provided additional data and helped shape our thinking.
This is another paragraph that deserves a far more detailed explanation. The “communication leading up to our July 6 meeting” included, but was not limited to, the slander of the CLC pastors by John Loftness and Mickey Connolly.
Joshua references two letters but in actuality there were three letters. One on September 12. Two on September 14 in the same piece of correspondence. I addressed the first letter regarding the conflict between SGM and CLC in The Sovereign Grace Board Refuses to Deal with Division by Distorting Scripture (September 16, 2012). Here are a few excerpts.
“The direction taken by the current Board of Directors is in direct violation of God’s Word. A hands off approach to a conflict of major proportions is utterly unacceptable. God forbid any Board of Director or Leadership Team member ever teach from the book of Philippians again until they are willing to obey its contents. In this matter, the Board is following the example of the Interim Board. No adjudication hearing. No getting to the bottom of things. No addressing issues of the heart.”
“The following letter to the SGM pastors about “agreeing in the Lord” is the perfect cop out for the current Board. They don’t have to aggressively love good, hate evil or pursue justice. Such an approach perfectly suits John, Mickey and Craig. Remember this letter was written by or under John’s oversight as Chairman of the Board with significant input from Mickey and Craig. As a result, John, Mickey and Craig (on the current Board) are saying John, Mickey and Craig (on the Interim Board) won’t be evaluated or investigated! Nor will C.J., Dave, Jeff (on the Leadership Team) or Rick Gamache, Pete Greasley, Aron Osborne, Mark Prater, and Steve Shank (members of the Interim Board). And for that matter, none of the CLC pastors will be examined either.”
“The current Board of Directors justifies this indifference by quoting Philippians 4:2 (and ignoring 4:3) and assigning it a meaning that totally contradicts the actual meaning of the text. Jesus the Christ and Paul the apostle would never sanction such a perverted approach that refuses to deal with such blatant and obvious sin. The conflict between the Covenant Life pastors and the Leadership Team/Interim Board far exceeds the conflict between the two women in Philippi who may have been deaconess. The same is true of the conflict between me and Sovereign Grace Ministries. The Leadership Team, Interim Board and current Board have stubbornly refused to love good, hate evil and pursue justice because of selfish ambition, vain conceit and self-interest.”
In the September 14 correspondence, the SGM Board “shared their view on six key decisions of the past year.” This piece of deceptive propaganda “was particularly clarifying for us [the CLC pastors]. It helped confirm our perspective that while SGM has made some changes they are not significantly changing their prior course and approach to leadership.” I addressed the second letter and part of the third in A Reasoned Response to an Unreasonable Board (October 5, 2012). Here is a summary statement. I still hope to write a Part 2.
“Jenny and I were invited to join my son and his wife on vacation on September 9-12. As a result, I somehow missed the post on September 14 by the SGM Board entitled “A Reasoned Response to Six Questions.” I just finished reading it for the first time. Folks, it is closing curtains for SGM. No one in their right mind can stay in SGM. This “reasoned response” is nothing of the kind. It is an awful piece of disinformation. So misleading. So dishonest. So partial. So contrary to the facts. It is exasperating beyond belief. The current Board of Directors is carrying on the deceptive tradition of the Interim Board. This is unsurprising given they were handpicked by C.J. and the Interim Board. For instance, John Loftness, Mickey Connolly, Craig Cabaniss were on the Interim Board. They are also on the current Board and John is now the Chairman. This Board is like its predecessor. It simply can’t be trusted to be impartial or truthful and that is no lie!”
I also wrote It’s Time to Get Stoned (October 6, 2012). Here is an excerpt.
“But concerns about polity are becoming secondary to them. The CLC pastors no longer trust President Mahaney, Chairman Loftness and the Board of Directors. They have seen and experienced their proud and deceitful ways over the past 15 months. They now realize you can’t stay in a movement whose leaders are reproachable, blameworthy and untrustworthy on many fronts. In order “to walk in integrity before the Lord and to honor our Savior” they know they must leave SGM over its leader’s unethical conduct.”
Again, our pastoral team is united; we believe that we should step back from our partnership with SGM now rather than extending the process in a way that will likely distract both our church and SGM as we move forward.
Is This About Unresolved Relational Issues?
Another question that we’ve heard from some of you is whether leaving SGM is really about unresolved personal issues. This is an important question for us. Part of the reason we’ve gone slowly in our decision-making process is because we wanted to be confident that we have been thorough and have honored the Lord in how we relate to our friends with whom we’ve disagreed.
Of course, there are many “unresolved personal issues.” That doesn’t mean the pastors want to leave because they are bitter or resentful. What I have in mind are all the ways C.J. sinned against the CLC pastors and church members. Those transgressions are serious and remain unresolved. Keep in mind, C.J. has never asked forgiveness of CLC for any sins against them; nor has he acknowledged any sins against the pastors in public. In contrast, the pastors have made public confessions. They’ve done well managing their hearts.
Over the last 15 months, I’ve sought to be very clear that there has been mutual disappointment and disagreement. And this has strained relationships. But as we’ve prayed and asked the Lord to search our hearts, we don’t believe the state of our personal relationships is directing our course. Where we can we have sought to ask forgiveness of our friends. Where they have asked forgiveness we have forgiven them.
And we take them at their word when they say they have no personal offense toward us. We have continued to pray for our brothers and express affection for them in conversation and in written communication. And we will continue to pursue them and love them in the days to come.
C.J. has almost never acknowledged personal offenses at anyone. That has been a major problem over the last three decades. He will not face the anger, bitterness and resentment in his heart that repeatedly expresses itself in his words and actions. For instance, he when he fled CLC but claimed he was not offended. Or when he relocated SGM to Louisville. C.J. has a long history of cutting off personal relationships but always claims he is not offended. This continues to be a pronounced pattern in C.J.’s life.
So, to the best of our ability to know our hearts before God, the answer is “no” —unresolved personal relationships are not the driver for this decision. What’s driving the decision is areas of principled disagreement with SGM leadership, and our goal tonight is to explain these differences as well as we can.
Joshua could have done a far better job explaining “these differences.” I am grateful for what he did say but it was inadequate and too non-descript. He does not use words like proud, deceitful, heavy handed, self-interest, partial, favoritism, love of reputation, unjust, hypocritical, or abusive to articulate their experience with C.J. and the leaders around him. He should have used these biblical categories and been more honest.
I’ve heard some speak of Covenant Life separating from SGM as a divorce. And I can understand why people can feel this way. Those of us who have been here longer have good reason to take the events of last July and all that has followed pretty hard.
But I’d like to share why I don’t think a divorce analogy is accurate or appropriate. First, we understand that marriage is a sacred bond established by God. This is why Scripture tells us God hates divorce. But church association is not the same as marriage—it’s not in the same category. It’s not a sacred covenant. And so it’s not inherently sinful to end an association between churches. We have this freedom as a local church and body of believers. And gospel unity does not mean that we must remain in the same church association.
The current Membership Agreement for churches says the following about the freedom to leave SGM “without cause.”
“Member churches may discontinue their affiliation with Sovereign Grace at any time with or without cause by providing written notice to Sovereign Grace and participating in an exit interview with representatives appointed by the apostolic team of Sovereign Grace.”
The new Membership Agreement will totally overturn this polity. It will become “inherently sinful to end” one’s association with SGM. No longer will churches have the freedom to leave unless there are “dire or exceptional circumstances or situations” that are ruled acceptable by the Regional Assembly of Elders and the Judicial Review Committee. Here is what the Polity Committee recommended and the Board adopted last month.
“In protecting the reputation of Christ every church should make a concerted, vigorous, and lasting effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace modeling the love of Christ in its given communion of churches by only withdrawing from such fellowship in dire or exceptional circumstances or situations…. Should the Regional Assembly of Elders deem the church’s reasons for withdrawal bad or insufficient, the Regional Assembly of Elders will censure [strong disapproval or harsh criticism] the church’s eldership for divisiveness. ” (SGBCO, p. 16)
“If the Judicial Review Committee does not accept the reasons for withdrawal as valid, the church may leave, and the Judicial Review Committee will issue a censure against the local church elders stating the reasons why it believes the local church is wrong…. The censure will be sent to all churches in SG, and will be read in all churches within the offending church’s region.” (SGBCO, p. 33)
The proposed SG Book of Church Order makes it almost impossible to leave SGM without being censored and reprimanded. There is no freedom to leave.
I want you to know that when we think of withdrawing our membership in SGM, it doesn’t mean discontinuing friendships or deserting gospel unity. We remain friends with the leaders in SGM. We love these men. We are brothers in Christ and that doesn’t change. We want them to succeed and thrive and they’ve expressed the same desire for us. And we’re going to continue to pray and work toward stronger relationships.
I have always wanted C.J., Dave and the other brothers to “succeed and thrive” but that is not possible without private and public repentance, confession, reconciliation, and restitution. Joshua should be calling for this kind of response.
Our Reasons for Departing
I want to take time now to elaborate on the reasons we believe it’s the right step to part ways with SGM. The first four points primarily look back, the last three look forward to our future as a local church on a mission. As a pastoral team, we’re hesitant to go into an abundance of detail about our concerns about the past. We do not want to offend brothers and sisters, whatever their opinions on these matters, and we don’t want our church family business to become the subject of continued public debate. But we believe you, the members of Covenant Life, deserve the opportunity to understand and interact with our reasoning. Making a decision of this level of importance without a good explanation could leave our church vulnerable to rumors and speculation based on inaccurate information. We believe talking through this is an important part of building unity and trust for our future together.
Joshua goes into few details in what follows. That is a disservice. The Covenant Life pastors could write a book about their horrific experience with C.J., the Leadership Team, the Interim Board and the current Board but they “do not want to offend brothers and sisters.” That has been the fundamental problem with Joshua, Grant Layman, and Kenneth Maresco for the longest time. For example, it was evident in the events following our reproof of C.J. in August 2004. They fear him. They have continuously enabled C.J. by their silence, partiality, favoritism, lack of correction, and unwillingness to discipline. They are still unwilling to anger him by making known the truth in an open and complete fashion.
Covenant Life is the leading church of SGM. For the past 35 years it has been the model for all the other churches to imitate. C.J. was their senior pastor for 25 years. He was based in the church until he fled to Capitol Hill Baptist Church last year. SGM and the Pastors College were based in the church until this year. Here’s the point. Covenant Life has a moral responsibility to shoot straight with the entire movement. The CLC pastors should be willing to serve all the churches in SGM with their honest and transparent assessment of C.J. and SGM. Their “family business” extends to the family of churches. They should not be concerned about becoming “the subject of continued public debate.” They should be concerned about getting out the truth, calling for repentance, and making it clear C.J. is not above reproach or fit for ministry.
We want to give clear categories. So let me begin with four concerns— four main categories that we believe speak to the wisdom of remaining in formal association with SGM:
1. Differences over the appropriate way to acknowledge and turn from past failures.
As a pastoral team, we believe the best way for us to move forward is by repenting of our past sins and owning where any patterns and practices have hurt people—both leaders and church members. Good steps have been taken by SGM; however, the primary accent, from our perspective, has been on downplaying and minimizing the seriousness of the issues of the past.
“Differences over the appropriate way to acknowledge and turn from past failures” does not adequately portray the situation. Joshua should make it clear that C.J. and the men around him have taken no responsibility for their abusive and deceitful leadership practices and have stubbornly refused to confess or repent of any “patterns and practices” that “have hurt people” (devastated is closer to the reality).
C.J. uttered one apology (not confession) for his leadership deficiencies (not sins) in response to the 39 page report by Ambassadors of Reconciliation in April 2012. Listen to how C.J. downplays and minimizes the past.
“As the leader of SGM since 1991, I (C.J.) want to sincerely apologize for the ways in which deficiencies in my leadership have contributed to the ministry failures catalogued in this report [by AoR].”
I know this perspective may be difficult for some to understand, since the congregation has not been the recipient of direct communication from SGM leadership other than what has been made available publicly. The pastoral team has been in a position to interact with SGM leadership through a variety of channels throughout this time of crisis, and we continue to see things as we have from early on:
The pastors have withheld tons of incriminating evidence about C.J. and SGM from the church that they have experienced and gathered “through a variety of channels throughout this [15 month] time of crisis.” Covenant Life Church and the movement know so little about the pastors’ terrible experience with SGM. The pastors “continue to see things as we have from early on.” That is from July, 2011. See An Important Recap of Joshua Harris’ Powerful Prophetic Word to SGM a Year Ago Today (July 10, 2012).
We believe the painful circumstances of the past 15 months have been God’s loving discipline for our church. We believe these trials are an expression of his love for the greater Sovereign Grace movement. We believe God has given us a wonderful opportunity to humble ourselves, to learn and to acknowledge where our leadership practices have fallen short. But this view has consistently put us at odds with the leadership of SGM. We think this difference over interpreting our shared history and the seriousness of the issues revealed adversely affects our ability to move forward into a shared future.
Joshua made it very clear in his message, “The Father’s Discipline” from July 10, 2011, that the Lord Jesus Christ was disciplining Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries. C.J. and leadership of SGM took great offense at this proposition and repeatedly argued against it. Or as Joshua says, “this view has consistently put us at odds with the leadership of SGM.” C.J. and the men around him have never thought his sins or the sins of SGM are serious or systematic (i.e., widespread). C.J. makes that crystal clear in his remarks at the Pastors Conference from November 2011. See C.J.’s State of His Heart Message – Reflection on Personal Sins.
2. Differences over how to handle principled disagreement.
In situations where our team has brought a perspective that disagrees with SGM leadership’s norms or existing practices, our input has often been perceived as disloyalty. Connected with this, there has been a tendency to separate from and marginalize those who disagree.
Notice the words, “often” and “tendency.” Joshua is talking about patterns of sinful behavior. I’ve been addressing these sinful and abusive patterns in C.J. since 1982. You simply cannot disagree with him without being labeled as disloyal, experience his resentment in the form of relational separation, and be demoted or removed from ministry. It has happened to countless leaders. That’s why the vast majority of men who worked with C.J. over the past three decades are no longer to be found.
Here is an excerpt from Response Regarding Friendship and Doctrine where I address these issues with C.J. It was the first document I sent to him on March 17, 2010.
“In April of 2004, Dave, Steve and I provided summary statements to Joshua, Kenneth, and Bob. I chose to state my concerns as succinctly as possible for the sake of clarity. I tried to condense 24 years of observations and express things as graciously and mildly as possible by avoiding words like pride, hypocrisy, integrity, etc. Here is what I communicated regarding you.
1. Can become resentful, distrustful or withdraw when he feels misunderstood, judged, or sinned against by others.
2. Can judge or prematurely come to conclusions about others based on limited or incomplete information.
3. When correcting or disagreeing can communicate his assessment or perspective too strongly or categorically.
4. Can lack gentleness and not perceive the unhelpful effect of his words, actions or decisions upon an individual.
5. Can be difficult to correct and help because he often disagrees with or has a different perspective on illustrations.
6. Infrequently makes us aware of specific sins or the correction others are bringing to him.” (RRF&D, pp. 9-10)
Nothing has changed with C.J. and men like Dave, John and Mickey have imitated his sinful example. None of these men are above reproach. They should not be in Christian ministry. I wish Joshua and the CLC pastors would finally take a biblical stand and declare them unfit. They know the truth about these men.
We don’t think that complete-across-the-board agreement between ministry partners is a necessary requirement for association. To the contrary, disagreement is a healthy thing that comes up in any relationship; in his grace God uses it to help sharpen and mature us. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” But, again, we have found that our expressions of disagreement, before and after July 2011, have often been met with correction and relational separation.
To correct C.J. is to be corrected and cut off by C.J. You are not permitted to disagree. If you do, there are consequences. Once again notice the words, “have often been met with correction and relational separation.” Joshua is talking about their normal, not abnormal experience, with C.J. and his remaining leaders.
At the August 20, 2004 meeting, Joshua made the following statement about why C.J. withdraws from people. Anyone who has worked with C.J. has observed this pattern. C.J. easily becomes angry and resentful of those disagree with him or challenge him.
“Joshua: Doesn’t think ‘withdrawing’ – isn’t the best word. It seems to be more resentment and distrusting. At times there is a strength of response in C.J. that seems to be resentful, especially when others criticize members of his family. (RRF&D, p. 26)
So for example, our signing of the “Fairfax Letter” (also signed by 19 other churches) which asked the Interim Board to slow down its process of seating a new Board was viewed as being disloyal and divisive. We were disappointed that no pastors who signed this letter or publicly criticized decisions by SGM were invited to sit on the new Board or the polity committee.
This is the first of only two examples – there are many more. This one deserves an entire chapter in a book. Joshua treats it in two sentences. That is woefully inadequate because it serves to illustrate how proud, self-serving and abusive the leaders of SGM have become.
I posted the “Fairfax Letter” in An Appeal from Thirteen SGM Churches for the SGM Board to Stop and Listen (March 7, 2012). In the final tally, the appeal came from 20 churches, not 13 churches, and represented the perspective of approximately 80 pastors. The letter from the pastors of Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax on behalf of these men was extremely gracious and humble.
The appeal to “slow down” and “stop and listen” was rejected by the Interim Board. Instead, they quickly appointed a puppet Board of Directors and Polity Committee comprised of C.J. devotees. Not one of the 80 pastors (many extremely prominent) was asked to serve on the Board or Committee. No allowance was made for diversity. The men appointed were handpicked by C.J. and his inner circle of loyalists on the Interim Board. This was a power grab and constituted the silencing of dissent by passing over the best leaders in SGM with the most discernment regarding the problems with C.J. and in SGM. Joshua says the CLC pastors were “disappointed” by this approach. They were more than disappointed. They were greatly alarmed. Joshua is not being candid or transparent.
Take note that the mere signing of the “Fairfax letter” by the CLC pastors “was viewed as being disloyal and divisive.” This is cult like leadership by C.J., Dave, John and Mickey (see Ten Common Cult-Like Characteristics Evident in Mickey Connolly’s Leadership). It is a clear example of abuse. That letter was an act of true loyalty and biblical friendship. C.J. and his inner circle called 80 pastors disloyal and divisive for their wise and necessary appeal. Imagine how they have, are and will treat individual sheep who seek to adjust them.
Another example that troubled us is that in January of this year, the SGM Leadership Team began to actively pursue planting a new church in our area. They communicated that this new church would be for people who had left Covenant Life and who wanted a church like “Covenant Life used to be.”
The feeling was that even if Covenant Life stayed in SGM, we would not be as strongly supportive of SGM as this group of people would desire.
We objected to this church plant because we were still a Sovereign Grace church in close proximity to the proposed plant’s location. Eventually, after we expressed considerable concern along with other pastors in SG, the board asked the leadership team to table this idea. But the situation is indicative of this tendency to withdraw from those who disagree.
This illustration of deceit goes back to January. That’s 11 months ago. Long before CLC ever gave serious thought to leaving SGM. C.J. would be furious if anyone ever tried to do such a thing to him or his church. But as I’ve repeatedly illustrated over the past three years, C.J. does not play by his own rules. They don’t apply to him. He considers himself above them.
In January, C.J., Dave Harvey, and Jeff Purswell “began to actively pursue planting a new church in our area.” To be more precise, they planned to start a church 10 minutes away in Germantown, MD. This “actively pursue” means they were actively recruiting people who had left CLC but also members who were still at CLC. This involved C.J. secretly approaching people. Joshua should have spelled all of this out for the members of CLC.
C.J.’s recruitment pitch was an invitation to be part of a new church that “used to be like CLC” even if CLC stayed with SGM. That is utterly unethical. C.J. deceitfully recruited behind the backs of the CLC pastors by using manipulative slander. I knew and wrote about these plans last Spring because Mickey Connolly was telling pastors about their covert plans not only in relation to CLC but to other churches as well.
When C.J. and the Leadership Team were exposed for their duplicity, the CLC pastors “objected to this church plant because we were still a Sovereign Grace church.” This objection fell on deaf ears. C.J., Dave and Jeff were unmoved and unrepentant. Only after the CLC pastors “expressed considerable concern along with other pastors in Sovereign Grace” did the Board of Directors asked the Leadership Team to table the idea. Getting other SGM pastors involved forced the hand of the Interim Board.
I have written extensively about the ethical demise of Sovereign Grace Ministries. This is but another example. It is “indicative of this tendency to withdraw from those who disagree” but much more seriously, it is indicative of the tendency to act deceitfully. Joshua should have honestly and courageously highlighted the latter.
See The Ethical Demise of Sovereign Grace Ministries (Part 1) from August 1, 2012 and The Ethical Demise of Sovereign Grace Ministries (Part 2) from August 17, 2012.
Essentially, we’ve observed a continuing pattern of relational withdrawal (both personal and organizational) when there is disagreement with leadership. This heightens our concern about the health of the organization and our ability to experience genuine partnership in it.
These are all relatively superficial statements. None of them address root issues of sin in biblical terms. For instance, what sinful cravings drive the consistent ostracizing of people by C.J.? That is easy. His idol of self worship. When you cease to venerate C.J. you are cut off. Joshua needs to speak far more clearly and strongly.
For instance, Joshua should make it clear that he has personally observed the “continuing pattern of relational withdraw” by C.J. over the past 15 years starting with Larry Tomczak in 1997, the same year Joshua moved to CLC. Furthermore, being concerned “about the health of the organization” is not the language of Scripture. The Bible doesn’t talk about healthy and unhealthy churches. It talks about godly and ungodly churches (and leaders) in specific terms (e.g. Rev 2-3).
3. Differences in Leadership Culture: Decision Making and Communication.
Our third concern is for what we perceive to be an approach to decision-making and communication that doesn’t honor the role of elders of the local churches in SGM. This is probably our biggest concern. And it has to do with the leadership culture of the movement. It’s hard to describe this, but we’re concerned that there is an unhealthy leadership culture, where significant decisions are located in a few men without the input and involvement of SGM pastors.
Once again, Joshua is soft. He refers to “an unhealthy leadership culture” that “doesn’t honor the role of elders.” He should make it clear that he is primarily referring to the proud, elitist and self-righteous leadership of C.J., Dave, John, and Mickey. These are the “few men” who make the “significant decisions.” The others basically follow their directives. This is the “biggest concern” for the CLC pastors. C.J. and his inner circle don’t want or need “the input and involvement of the SGM pastors.” That is nothing new. C.J. has always acted independently. He has never seen the need for consistent input into his life or ministry. That was the primarily issue Dave Harvey, Steve Shank and I began to address back in December 2000 (see RRF&D, pp. 5-7).
The new polity is a good step bringing about change, but because there hasn’t been a willingness to acknowledge this pattern we’re concerned that even in a new polity it will take some time for this a change to take hold.
I am not at all certain the SG Book of Church Order will bring about change in who holds the reins of power in SGM. For example, the Leadership Team is still appointed by the Board of Directors and I guarantee no one will make it to the Board of Directors who is not an avid supporter of C.J. and his inner circle.
One of the most significant examples of this relates to the decision to move the SGM headquarters and Pastors College to Louisville. I want to be clear, we’re not addressing the planting of a church in that city. We’re specifically addressing the relocation, of the Pastors College.
And I would add the relocation of Sovereign Grace Ministries. It is unimaginable that C.J. and the Interim Board would not seek out the input of the CLC pastors regarding this decision. Both SGM and the PC were housed in CLC. No consideration whatsoever was shown to them. Like everyone else, the CLC pastors found out about the decision when it was announced on the SGM website. And worse, John Loftness and the new Board put forth a deceptive and purposely misleading explanation for the relocation. See Sovereign Grace Ministries Relocation Announcement (April 21, 2012).
Our perspective is that this was by far the most far reaching of the decisions made over the past year. We didn’t immediately understand all the implications when the decision was first announced. But the location of the Pastors College has a significant impact on how future pastors in our movement will be trained and what model of ministry they will observe.
Joshua, the CLC pastors, and many other pastors in SGM, don’t want men going to the Pastors College to be “trained” by a “leadership culture” that is abusive. Nor do they want these future pastors to be immersed in C.J.’s “model of ministry” in his Louisville church.
And yet this decision was not one that the pastors of SGM were invited to participate in at all. It was made before a new polity was established. And it was the first decision made by the new Board in their first meeting after being seated. While there may be good economic reasons for the relocation, we believe the way this decision was made—in a hurried manner by a small group of people without consulting the wider movement—illustrates one of our concerns with the SGM leadership culture.
C.J., Dave Harvey, Jeff Purswell, Tommy Hill, John Loftness, Mickey Connolly and Craig Cabaniss all requested that the six brand new Board Members join them in agreeing to relocate SGM to Louisville. C.J. wanted to ditch Covenant Life Church because of his offenses. Paul Buckley, Ron Boomsma, Ian McConnell, Ken Mellinger, Al Pino and Phil Sasser rubber stamped the decision immediately. It was their first decision in their first meeting. What a set up.
While we’re talking about the Pastors College, I want to acknowledge that because of our differences with SGM regarding leadership practice and culture, we would not feel comfortable sending future pastors for training in the Pastors College. All of the men leading the college have expressed strong disagreement with our leadership. I’m sad to say this, but obviously this has significant ramifications for future partnership in SGM.
C.J., Jeff Purswell and Gary Ricucci lead the Pastors College. The CLC pastors aren’t “comfortable” sending anyone to the PC because of the “leadership practice and culture” these men represent. They don’t want the future pastors of CLC immersed in a leadership culture that is unethical and abusive in its practices.
4. Differences in Polity.
Our final concern relates to the new polity that Sovereign Grace has just recently unveiled. As I mentioned earlier, the concerns we have transcend the issue of polity. But polity is a factor and I want to briefly address it. Last Sunday the Sovereign Grace Ministries Polity Committee released its proposed Book of Church Order for SGM. You can read it yourself on the SGM website.
It has taken 15 months but the CLC pastors have finally stated their concerns for C.J., Dave, John, Mickey, et al. go beyond polity. See It’s About Ethics, Not Polity, Stupid! (August 24, 2012)
There is much in the proposal we are encouraged by, even as we recognize there are fundamental aspects of this proposal that are at odds with the position we have taken. Before focusing on those points of difference, I want to consider points of encouragement and give thanks to God.
This document is the fruit of many months of study, debate, and interaction among many SG pastors. This process is one we believe has been a significant step forward for SGM in engaging and involving its pastors in evaluating theological positions and developing policies, one in which we gladly and thoroughly participated. We are sincerely grateful for the hard work of the committee, the other SG pastors who participated.
There are many points we’re encouraged by. For example in this polity the authority is distributed. It will now be relocated from a small group of men to assemblies of elders. There are also clear policies for the removal of elders. And there is regionalization—governance, care and missional strategy will be relocated from a central headquarters to regions of local pastors.
I believe Joshua is overstating and misstating some of the merits he references. See Sovereign Grace Ministries Puts Forth 5 Tiered Hierarchy with 7 Distinct Governing Bodies (October 29, 2012) and Sovereign Grace Ministries Aborts Simplicity of New Testament Polity (November 4, 2012).
But while there are several strengths about the polity to be encouraged by, at its foundation it is at odds with our stated position on polity. The SGM polity gives authority to an entity outside the local church, the regional assembly.
It also gives authority to the national Leadership Team, Board of Directors, Council of Elders and Court of Appeal. Authority is not confined to the regional assemblies. All these outside entities are given extensive rights and responsibilities in governing the local church. That is frightening and fundamentally at odds with the pastors’ doctrine of the church.
Now there is much to appreciate about having a regional assembly of elders. It is something we would very interested in, even excited about, if it served in an advisory capacity. But as it is, the assembly controls the ordination and discipline of elders and determines key aspects of mission. These are authoritative functions that we believe must be handled within the governance of local churches. We have laid out our processes for these matters in our church constitution and do not believe Scripture permits us to delegate this authority to the elders of other churches.
I agree. Here is how I put it in Sovereign Grace Ministries Aborts Simplicity of New Testament Polity (November 4, 2012).
“Churches should have the freedom to ordain leaders, plant churches, remove elders, write rules of discipline, involve outside objective third parties, allocate mission funds, define doctrine, establish godly practices, associate with churches outside their region, and relate to men they recognize as apostles. All of this is forbidden in the Sovereign Grace Book of Church Order. These functions are delegated to extra-local elders who govern the churches. Their decisions cannot be disobeyed unless such decisions clearly demand disobedience to God like forbidding a Christian from preaching the gospel (see Acts 5:29).” (p. 7)
“It is one thing to require adherence to the essential doctrines of the faith as articulated in a Statement of Faith. It is another thing to demand obedience to faulty interpretations of specific passages like Matt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:1-12; 1 Tim 5:19-21; Titus 1:6; and Acts 15:1-31 as found in the SG Book of Church Order. But Sovereign Grace goes further. It demands a vow of obedience to all its rules and regulations found in the SG Book of Church Order… In the new and improved ministry of Sovereign Grace, you cannot disagree with the Statement of Faith, their interpretation of Scripture, the SG Book of Church Order, the Partnership Agreement or any rulings made by its five tiered hierarchy.” (pp. 9-10)
“According to the Polity Committee and Board of Directors, the SG Book of Church Order is functionally equal to the Bible in authority. All its tenets must be obeyed and followed or you will censored and judged. There are no ‘disputable matters’ any longer. I would never sign a membership document where I am required to swear an oath promising to obey hundreds of practices prescribed by men. It is now clear, SGM has no ambivalence about legislating in minutia.” (p. 11)
As a church we are excited about the partnerships we have with other churches—especially those in our region and hope to continue to deepen those partnerships. We are also grateful for the accountability structures established in our constitution both among the elders and with the congregation. We believe we can have this kind of vital connection without ceding the authority of local churches to outside assemblies.
Mark Mullery, the senior pastor from Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax, just preached at Covenant Life Church and spoke about their mutual partnership. That is great but I hope SGCF and CLC are also reaching out to other smaller churches who have also decided to leave SGM.
So while it does represent a significant step forward and there is much we are very encouraged by, it is fundamentally at odds with our stated convictions on the nature of authority in the church and so we cannot support or adopt it.
I see the SG Book of Church Order as a significant step backward. Though it is more representative it is far more controlling! It robs churches of their biblical prerogatives and responsibilities. For example, the first two objectives mentioned by Joshua are forbidden in the SG Book of Church Order.
Now, let me share three reasons why we believe ending our formal association with SGM is going to help at be more effective as a church.
These are all excellent reasons for leaving Sovereign Grace Ministries. None of these objectives could be pursued if they stayed.
1. We want our local church to take greater ownership of local and global missions.
For many years we have essentially outsourced our mission giving to SGM. We’re grateful for the many good ways this money was invested. But one of the unintended consequences that we’ve observed is that our pastoral team and membership has not been directly and actively engaged with thinking about and praying for global missions—someone else has been taking care of it for us. We are very excited to be involving members of our church in a missions’ task force and asking the Lord to give us a clear strategy and partnerships to help advance the gospel in our area through supporting church planting and around the world through global missions.
We believe as we build together as a church, God wants to mobilize us as a congregation—the people, the gifts in our midst, the resources—to take the gospel deeper into the Washington D.C. region and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
2. We want to broaden our partnerships and associations with other gospel-centered churches.
We believe that stepping away from SGM will encourage us to have a bigger Kingdom of God outlook on partnership. We want to look for ways to partner with and encourage other gospel-proclaiming churches in the Washington, D.C. region. My participation on the Gospel Coalition Council has given me a greater appreciation for the ways the Spirit is working among many different denominations and church planting movements. In some ways, I think our church has unnecessarily isolated itself from other ministries in our region. We want to change that. We want to look for ways to learn from, encourage and be a blessing to churches. We want to be a generous, outward looking church that is always looking for more opportunities to promote gospel ministry.
3. We want to dedicate ourselves to getting our own house in order as a local church.
Two years ago, after my mother passed away, I had an important season of soul searching and asking the Lord to speak to me about my calling and purpose in life. I believe he spoke very clearly to me: focus on being faithful at Covenant Life. I felt the Lord told me not to be distracted by speaking at conferences or pursuing national ministry or greater acclaim. Instead I was to dedicate myself to growing and building and sharpening the mission of this church. I sensed the Lord say: “This is your post. Do not leave your post.”
I had no idea at the time how much turmoil we would be facing, but I still believe that is God’s call on my life and for our pastoral team.
This pastoral team’s heart is to shepherd this flock. We love you. We are for you. Despite our weaknesses and failures, we believe God has a good future for our church, a future full of grace.
We do not believe it’s wise for us to be caught up in advocating for reform in a national movement at this time. It seems likely that significant upheaval and leadership change in SGM will occur in the next few years, and we would like to avoid the significant distraction from our primary mission that our continued involvement would entail.
The leadership culture of SGM remains corrupt. There have been no ethical reforms. The same sinful patterns of abuse continue. The 18 pastors at Covenant Life Church know C.J. and his inner circle better than anyone. Half of them were some of C.J.’s closest and longest friends including his brother-in-law, Grant Layman. They have concluded that the leadership practices of the SGM men are so bad they cannot possibly stay. They have no confidence in the Pastors College to train pastors or in C.J.’s church to serve as a model of ministry. That is a mouth full and everyone should pay close attention to their assessment!
Yet, this statement by Joshua to Covenant Life Church does not begin to describe the painful and disillusioning experience of betrayal and heavy handedness experienced by the CLC pastors over the last 15 months. No one should stay in SGM. Any pastor who does chooses to embrace a leadership culture characterized by lying, deceit, injustice, favoritism, hypocrisy, intimidation, lording, pride, human idolatry, , selfish ambition, and love of reputation.
I agree “it seems likely that significant upheaval and leadership change in SGM will occur in the next few years.” Some power players may retire like C.J. But other power players will emerge in his image. Those who stay in SGM and climb to the top will do so because they are like C.J., Dave, John, Mickey, et al.
Our local church needs attention. We want to create a process for non-staff pastors to be trained and set in. We want to train and deploy deacons. We want to find ways to build on the strengths and improve our small groups. We want to increase the study of God’s Word and train people to be disciple makers. We want to improve how we teach children on Sunday mornings. We want to push more ministry into the community and better engage the poor, the addicted and the disenfranchised. By God’s grace, we want to help plant dozens of churches in our region. We have work to do, and we’re ready and willing to devote ourselves to it.
Why We’re Full of Faith For The Future
I want to take a few minutes to talk more about the vision God has given us as a church. We don’t simply believe God is calling us to leave something. We believe he is calling us forward to a renewed commitment to be a local church consumed with a passion for the glory of Jesus Christ.
The churches that have left SGM are so relieved and free to glorify God since they are longer part of a system committed to glorify itself and its leaders. Five great points follow.
God has given us resources of skilled people, experienced leaders, a large-multi-purpose building and finances that position us to have a massive impact for the gospel in our community. He has strategically placed Covenant Life Church in our nation’s capital—an area to which God has literally brought the nations. God is focusing our vision for where he wants to take us.
This is one of the most important reasons for basing Sovereign Grace Ministries in Covenant Life Church.
First, we want to be a Multiplying Church—multiplying disciples, multiplying small groups and multiplying new churches. We think God wants us to focus our efforts on this incredible harvest field. To focus on proclaiming the gospel in the greater D.C. region and through this region to touch the world. We have incredible opportunities to train leaders, partner with other churches to plant churches and send missionaries around the world.
I’m encouraged to see how, even in this season, the Holy Spirit is propelling us forward in mission. On our pastors retreat we came to a place of faith to actively explore planting a new church in Mt. Airy, Maryland with Matt and Elisabeth Maka. We still have to work through many details of timing and finding someone to fill Matt’s role here. But want to involve you in the process of praying and seeking God for this new venture. And this is just the beginning. We not only want to directly plant churches we want to help play a part in the establishment of hundreds of gospel-centered churches from different denominations in the D.C. region.
Second, we want to be a Caring Church, one that reaches out to the despised and rejected, those in our community caught in the cycle of sin—to reach them with the gospel, and see them reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 teaches us that Christ has reconciled us to himself and entrusted to us the message and ministry of reconciliation.
Third, we want to be a Relational Church—a true community centered on Jesus and his gospel where we can walk together in the joys and sorrows of life, sharing one another’s joys and bearing one another’s burdens. A community in which “speaking the truth in love, we....grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ...” (Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV)
Fourth, we want to be an Equipping Church where every member is a disciple-maker—every member is participating in our mission and being equipped and inspired to walk in the good works our Father has planned for them. We want to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” and see every member engaged in serving and ministry within the church and outside it.
Finally, we want to be a Multigenerational Church where older Christians walk together with younger Christians to help us grow in wisdom, while we maintain our zeal! Regardless of your age, there is a place for you in Covenant Life Church.
Psalm 145:4 says, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”
Now let me transition to outlining What This Does Not Mean
Joshua now shares six helpful perspectives Covenant Life Church and their pastors have suffered greatly because of C.J.’s actions and slander. I hope he returns one day to confess the effects of his pride, deceit, lording, and hypocrisy upon them.
As I shared earlier, I realize that, especially for those of you who have been here many years, the idea of leaving SGM may be very sad and bring conflicting emotions to the surface. I understand those feelings. We’ve processed those feelings individually and as a pastoral team. But I think it will help and encourage us if we take a moment to look at what stepping away from our formal assoation with SGM does not mean…
1. It does not mean that we don’t love the leaders of SGM, the pastors of SGM churches and the members of these churches. They are brothers and sisters and partners in the gospel, and we thank God for them. We also pray for them and ask for God’s ongoing blessing in their lives and work. This change does not sever our fellowship in Christ
2. It does not mean that we will cease to benefit from aspects of SGM’s teaching, as well as its resources and songs. Just as we benefit from relationships with various denominations, church planting networks, and parachurch ministries, we will continue to benefit from SGM.
3. It does not mean that we are, in any way, abandoning the core values of our church. We still celebrate and want to build on the many good characteristics that have defined SGM over the years.
We are still gospel-centered in our doctrine and preaching, reformed in our understanding of God’s work in salvation, charismatic in our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit, complementarian in our view of leadership in the church and home, committed to pursuing holiness and dedicated to planting churches.
4. It does not mean that we are ending friendships with SGM churches or church members. We will still look for ways to bless and encourage SGM churches as we would any other gospel-preaching churches. We’ve communicated to our brothers at the Spanish speaking SGM church that uses our facility that nothing has changed in our desire to partner with them and bless them. That applies to all the SGM churches in our region.
5. It does not mean that we are discounting or forgetting the numerous ways that C.J. and SGM have helped us and blessed us over the years. Our differences do not negate the many blessings we’ve received from these relationships.
6. It does not mean that we will be an isolated local church. As I said earlier, we believe this step will actually encourage more and more diverse partnerships that will help build this church for God’s glory. That being said, we don’t anticipate diving into any kind formal association in the near term. No rebound relationships! Instead we will pursue vital partnership with many other gospel-proclaiming churches in our region and across the country.
We are speaking to leaders in other SGM churches in our region and exploring ways we might pursue mission together. We are grateful for these historic friendships.
How We Will Process This Decision With You
Let me close by taking about how we see this decision being finalized. As I said earlier, we are not handing down a decision. We really want to hear from you and interact with you. We understand that some of you may disagree. We want to talk with you. We welcome your questions.
We will be having two “Coffee & Conversation” meetings on November 11 and 18 to answer questions. We’d also be happy to meet with your small group or with you individually as we’re able to. What I want you to hear is that we want to talk!
In two weeks after we’ve held both of our Coffee & Conversation meetings we will use an online form to allow the congregation to vote on this decision. The question will simply be “Do you support the pastors in the decision to end our formal association with Sovereign Grace Ministries?” Each member will have the chance to say “yes” or “no.” We’ll allow several weeks for voting to take place.
In accord with our future constitution, we will only proceed with this decision if there is at least 51% support from the congregation. And we will be transparent regarding the feedback. We will share how many people voted to affirm the decision and how many people did not support it. Lord willing, if there is sufficient support we will finalize the decision sometime in the middle of December.
I realize this is a new way for us to process a decision as a church. But I hope you see it as expression of your pastors to see us move forward together. I also want to very specifically ask you to support your pastors in this course. We have sought the Lord together over a long period of time. We have waited for the Lord to bring us to a place of unity us a team. God has given us both clarity and unity. We believe that taking this step is in the best interest of our local church.
We believe that moving now to bring closure to our relationship with SGM will serve SGM and enable us to press forward as a local church.
Some of you will agree with this direction and be eager to move forward. Others of you may struggle with this course. In the coming weeks before we officially take a vote of affirmation, we welcome and invite discussion with you. Please come to us and dialogue with us as pastors. We want to care for you and process this with you. If you are struggling in any way, we want to hear from you. We will not perceive disagreement as a lack of love or support.
I believe them. They have learned through adversity that disagreement must not be equated with a lack of love or support. C.J., Dave, John, Mickey, et al., have repeatedly accused them of these things when they dared to disagree.
Now as we prepare to take time to pray, I want to take the opportunity to exhort us all and remind us of this truth from God’s word. Colossians 3:12-13 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Scripture commands us to put on these qualities of deference and meekness toward one another, to make it our goal to build one another up, and to give grace to one another through our words. Let’s ask for his help in these things.
Please Help - All Gifts & Tax Deductible Contributions Are Kept Strictly Confidential