Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Date: August 27, 2012 08:20PM
SCALES FALLING OFF'S STORY
I posted the following three posts in 2008 shortly before leaving CrossWay in Charlotte (Brent and then Mickey’s church). I just found them and re-read them for the first time in 3 years. We left shortly after I posted here (Spring 2008) and it’s amazing to me how these issues have come out. If the SGM leadership was truly humble and “teachable” they certainly had many opportunities to foresee what they are now reaping.
I’ve been reading the SGM Survivor forum for a few days. I’m a current Sovereign Grace Ministries member in the southeastern US. My closest friend and his family just officially left the church this week. In the 6 years my wife and I have been members, we’ve had numerous close friends leave. I’m beginning to understand why.
I’m posting on this thread because it started off with the topic of CJ’s message on submitting to the leadership. The last time CJ was at my church he spoke on a similar passage (1 Cor. 3), where Paul warns the Corinthians not to align themselves with a particular leader, saying (paraphrasing) “Apollos led me to the Lord, so I follow him” nor should we say “Paul shared the Gospel with me so I belong to him.” The whole point of the passage was to say that the leaders in the 1st century, though worthy of support and respect, were not the head of the church.
But CJ actually used this passage, and somehow turned it upside down, to turn it into an opportunity to bring up our Sr. Pastor and Brent Detwiler and honor them for having led the church so well. It became one of those “it’s appropriate and right to honor these two men” speeches. I couldn’t believe it. And everyone stood and clapped and it was all so nice and an absolute perversion of scripture.
Anway, I could look past that because it was isolated, or so I thought, and I figured CJ had come into town to bolster support for the local leadership, like a good CEO. But lately the scales are dropping off and I’m beginning to understand how the emphasis on our sin nature, on our unworthiness, and on submission to our self-appointed leaders make a dangerous combination.
I too love the folks at SGM. We’ve benefited tremendously from many fine examples of loving servant-heartedness and care, as well as many excellent practical teachings. But it has become difficult to feel like a non-conformist when I have some differing theological views, or to feel like every time I have a concern or question about how church or care group works, I need to be directed to what my “root sin issues” are. It’s amazing how the leadership “humbly” accepts the praise for the good things in SGM, but, as you pointed out at the top of this post, any failures are due to members who are not submissive enough.
Yes, I’ve had a meeting with our Sr. Pastor, and actually I’m meeting another pastor today to express these things. In past discussions, there has always been a gracious response from the leaders, but then a “let me point you to the cross” approach. You get pointed back at your own failings (of which there are many in my case), and the leadership is kind and sincere, so it’s hard. But who do they listen to? Who are they accountable to? It’s like you said, if there’s any defect in the system, it must be because folks aren’t submitting enough or self-examining their own sin issues enough.
It’s often difficult to point to specifics when having a conversation with those in leadership, it often feels more like a Jedi mind trick. You leave with this kind of “I-don’t-know-what-just-happened-but-there’s-nothing-wrong-with-what-I-was-just-told” kind of feeling.
So I had a meeting this afternoon with my pastor. He was very gracious. Indeed, as is my experience with all of the leadership, these men are genuinely caring and desirous of serving God and doing their jobs the best they know how. I shared my concerns, and he listened to them. He took notes and is bringing them back to the Sr. Pastor.
When he asked me what I wanted, I said I’d like to see some change, some acknowledgement from the pulpit that there are structural defects that have produced undesired results, ie, good people leaving the church for similar reasons – a feeling that the leadership is unapproachable or getting tired of being directed back at one’s own sin whenever one has input for the leadership. I said I’d like to see pastoral accountability to the body, not on a one-on-one basis, but corporately in the form of an elder’s board (that ain’t gonna happen). And I said I’d like to see the pastors belong to care groups and get rid of the sphere groups and “pastor/care group leader retreats and meetings.” Oh, and I also suggested that there be a lot less of the honoring thing.
He did receive these things sincerely, though he said of course that it’s not likely that many of these things will happen. And he did show his concern for me that I not allow my own cynicism to plant a seed of bitterness (that’s common SGM speak, but he was sincere and caring).
At the end of the day, I think there’s just a fundamental flaw with the Apostolic model, particularly since the “apostles” were self-appointed, and they’ve surrounded themselves with men who affirm their apostle-ship. There’s not a lot of room for transparency and questioning, and the “apostle” definitely sets the tone and calls the shots.
What they perceive as their methods for dealing with the logistical or administrative challenges of caring for a large flock, I see as diminishing their ability to relate with the flock. I think they function efficiently, but efficiency’s not always best spiritually. And I think they’ve decided they’ve figured out the best way to do church, and there’s not a whole lot of opportunity to change things.