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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 21, 2012 11:08PM


There's no quicker way to get a smirk in Washington than to leave a $161,000-a-year White House job, without having something new, and say you're doing it to spend more time with your family. That's what Claude A. Allen, President Bush’s domestic policy adviser, told his bosses before he resigned in February. And that's what the White House told the press when his departure was announced three days after Bush had released his new budget and Allen, one of the administration’s most senior African Americans, had told reporters, "The safety net is tight and strong." The White House threw him a farewell reception in the Roosevelt Room, with family and staff enjoying soft drinks and desserts. White House officials and reporters were abuzz about what might be "the real reason" for Allen's departure: Was he protesting something in the budget? Was he running for office?

It turns out that Allen, a 45-year-old father of three who is a nationally prominent conservative, knew that he was under investigation by police in suburban Montgomery County, Md., where he lives. He was arrested Thursday and charged with "theft" and "theft scheme" following a bizarre incident at a Target store that detectives allege was part of a year-long spree of fraudulent refunds at Target and Hecht’s stores that netted him more than $5,000 in credits to his credit cards. "He would buy items, take them out to his car, and return to the store with the receipt," a police statement said. "He would select the same items he had just purchased, and then return them for a refund." The police said that in 25 incidents during 2005, Allen "obtained refunds for items ranging from clothing, a Bose theater system, stereo equipment, and photo printer to items valued only at $2.50."

Allen’s lawyer told reporters that it was a misunderstanding on the part of Target officials, and that the investigation had nothing to do with his client’s departure from government. White House officials learned about the arrest Friday night from news accounts, and Bush was asked about it Saturday morning when he met briefly with reporters following a Roosevelt Room briefing by military officials on efforts to combat Iraqi insurgents' improvised explosive devices. "If the allegations are true, something went wrong in Claude Allen's life, and that is really sad," Bush said. "When I heard the story last night, I was shocked."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan immediately began giving reporters a detailed account of what Bush’s aides knew, and when. McClellan said that the night of the January 2 incident at Target, Allen called White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., who told Allen to talk to White House Counsel Harriet Miers. "He assured them that it was a misunderstanding," McClellan told TIME. "The way he explained it to Harriet was that he was returning some merchandise and that there was confusion with his credit cards because he had moved a number of times." McClellan said Allen received the benefit of the doubt because "there was nothing in his prior history that we were aware of—he had been through a number of background checks."

McClellan said that a few days later, Allen came back to Card and Miers and "told them that he had been looking at leaving because of his family situation—he had been putting in long hours, he wanted to spend more time with his family and he thought the best thing to do would be to resign so that he could do that." Allen was working on some of the initiatives Bush would be talking about in his State of the Union address on Jan. 31, particularly the education element of the President's new competitiveness plan. "So he thought a good time to transition would be after the State of the Union," McClellan said. The going-away party was Feb. 16, and Allen's last day at the White House was Feb. 17. McClellan said Card told Bush about the planned departure in early February, when Allen had essentially given two weeks' notice. Card told the President about the Target incident at that time, McClellan said. Bush was in the White House residence when his aides started getting calls about the arrest Friday night, and the President was informed then.

"If the allegations are true," Bush said Saturday morning, "Claude Allen did not tell my Chief of Staff and legal counsel the truth, and that's deeply disappointing. ... And my first reaction was one of disappointment, deep disappointment that—if it's true—that we were not fully informed. But it was also one—shortly thereafter, I felt really sad for the Allen family."

Allen, an advocate of home-schooling and abstinence education, is extremely well known to conservative activists as the press secretary to former Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina in his tough 1984 reelection race against then-Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., a Democrat. In 2003, Bush nominated Allen to a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., but Democrats objected and there was never a confirmation hearing. Allen was Secretary of Health and Human Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1998 to 2001, appointed by former Gov. Jim Gilmore, and came to Washington as the deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services for Bush. In that job, Bush introduced him at events in the White House and on the road in Tampa, Fla., and Bethesda, Md. As domestic policy adviser, Allen occasionally briefed the reporters.

The Montgomery County police said that the incident for which Allen was charged occurred on Jan. 2, at a Target in Gaithersburg, when the loss prevention manager spotted a suspicious man. "He was observed in the store with an empty Target bag in a shopping cart," the statement says. "The man was then seen selecting merchandise throughout the store and placing items in the Target bag. He put additional items in his cart. The man then went to guest services where he produced a receipt and received a refund for the items he had just selected from the store shelves. After receiving the refund he left the store without paying for the additional merchandise in the shopping cart. He was apprehended by the store employee."

Time Magazine
March 11, 2006


“Strange how it seems everywhere I go there is discussion that leads to this dang church and its members, leaders, and actions: So I am participating in a discussion with PolySci students in my class about political corruption starting with individuals and how little the public may know about a politician until they are exposed, and randomly one of them mentions how he used to live in Avalon Farms and had a neighbor a few houses down from him named Claude Allen who was a top white house aid under President Bush but was also a vocal member of (what this student termed)”a huge cult called Covenant Life” and even a position of the groups legal team, and how he seemed to be making a pretty good living from the looks of it. The neighbors thought it was strange he home-schooled all of his kids and even more odd that there was a rapid influx of other cult members all moving into the neighborhood at the same time that year(major reason the other neighbors assumed they must belong to a cult). Turns out while living there Allen ends up being investigated and arrested for stealing items from Hechts and Target stores and running a long term “return the item for cash” scam on the stores. Of course when the papers all came to try to interview neighbors about the scandal, all the new cult members who had moved in came out of the woodwork to talk to the reporters to defend him and he (this student)assumed then that was possibly why they all had moved near each other — to provide resilience and public protection in numbers. When I mentioned they were actually a church all the students laughed and said “yeah right, that’s not normal stuff a regular church does”. They weren’t going to get an argument out of me of course. I looked up Claude Allen online and came up with this time article:


….no surprise, it was true. It used to surprise me to hear Covenant Life Church or Sovereign Grace Ministries come up in random conversations with other people, and it used to be normal to have to explain to the average random Montgomery county resident just who this Covenant Life Church / Sovereign Grace Ministries organization was. But they seem to be becoming pretty well known by their works and needless to say their public image is not a pretty one. But this wouldn’t be the first time a corporation moved their headquarters or “home base” in an attempt to find more neutral ground, a change of venue of sorts, where public image can be reinvented after scandal had rocked their reputation in their former location. Nothing seems to surprise me anymore…….” exCLCer, SGM Survivors


“Claude Allen was part of the Sovereign Grace Ministries /Covenant Life Church inner circle. We as a church, Covenant Life Church, would put him on stage as an example of God’s favor and influence. Sovereign Grace Ministries and Covenant Life Church originally chose Washington, D.C. as a headquarters as the best place to have national influence.” Unassimilated, SGM Survivors

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 22, 2012 11:05PM


“When my husband pointed me to the SGM Survivor’s blog, I was dismayed, alarmed, and yet comforted by the many similar stories being told about the controlling spirit of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Somehow, after eleven years of being away from them, I had come to hope that things had changed for the better. It seems they have changed for the worse.”

“For a period of about two months, I began missing church meetings. My husband began to notice that I was growing in grace. When I’d go to a meeting, I would stumble into the old fears and expectations. He began to see that I did better spiritually when I was away from Sovereign Grace Ministries. That began to puzzle and intrigue him.

“Though it is hard to speak of, I want others out there under authoritarian church rule to see how different their lives can be when they recover their freedom in Christ.”


When I met my ex-pastor and his wife, I was very young, only eighteen. I was also a new believer. I came from a broken family. I was raised under a form of legalism, where outward appearance was very important. I was, unknowingly, a prime candidate for the type of practice that became prevalent in “church” – namely, a little grace mixed with alot of rules and expectations. The very night I was baptized and walking in waves of love from the Lord, a brother told me not to get use to those feelings. It was now time for the hard work to begin. I came crashing down from the great heights of communion with God. So, church wasn’t going to be any different from the way I grew up. Well, at least it was familiar. I’d fit right in.

The pastor and wife that I met began a church in someone’s basement. This was back in the late 70′s when non-denominations were a new thing. The leaders and members were young. With youth comes exuberance and pride. Somehow, the zeal for God kept our prideful moments in check. We were committed to living a New Testament life, building a community of believers who would reach out to the lost. Our focus soon drifted from Jesus to building His church. We were eventually adopted by a group known at the time as People of Destiny International (later became Sovereign Grace Ministries), led by a very enthusiastic Christian man, Larry Tomzcak. This was around 1983, I think. Everything changed after that.

An “apostle” was invited to take charge of our little church. The two elders, men we loved and trusted, were asked to step down. They soon left. Care groups were reorganized. Our pastor had to step down temporarily, to be proven by this apostle, who took over everything. A church split followed, as well as church discipline of a few people who did not submit to the new “authority”.

I was married the following year, and my husband and I began our family. A very lonely, dry time followed. It was as though I had been put off into a dessert. My prideful, youthful days were disappearing under the reality of giving myself to my family. It was good for me, yet very lonely.

Over the years, our church began to change. Our pastor was re-established. Teaching became more about doctrine than Jesus. Grace was preached for the first time, but hardly mentioned again. We were definitely under church rule. A hierarchy was established. Leaders became exclusive. My family moved into a neighborhood next to my husband’s good friend from college and his family. They were in leadership. Before our move, they told us that living near them didn’t mean we could be their best friends, as they had relationships to invest in with leadership. This wasn’t to be the last time we heard this sort of thing.

The pastor’s time was spent more and more on people being molded for entrance into leadership. Our leaders became a part of a hierarchy where, if you needed a pastor’s help, you had to go through your care group leader first. Pastors became more isolated from the little guys. They were busy investing their time in the people whom they felt were called to leadership. These people were the ones who showed the most submission, had their family life (at least on the surface) in order, and were tried and tested in loyalty to the upper leaders. Somehow, this made me believe that the only way God would truly be pleased with my husband and myself was if we became CG leaders some day. This meant man-pleasing, which I was very good at, due to my upbringing. There was also fear that we not step outside of the “umbrella of protection” established by our church. If only I had known then that this was mere superstition, as were some of the other practices in church.

Eventually, my husband was asked to lead a care group, although he was warned that a chance was being taken on him. I now realize that it wasn’t a matter of whether he was mature enough in Christ, as much as how loyal he was to leadership – this was the chance being taken. Funny, after we began leading a homegroup, it wasn’t like I imagined. There were people who needed care, but my love was just too small. I didn’t know how to support my husband.

Then, the Lord spoke to my husband about becoming part of a new church plant down south. When he mentioned it to me, I was horrified. Leave our church, our friends? I had never been anywhere else. These were our people. I hardly knew anyone going on the church plant. I had no faith for this.

We went to a conference put together for People of Destiny International churches. During worship one night, I told the Lord I’d be willing to follow my husband anywhere. The Lord suddenly filled me with faith to go on the church plant. It was complete. I never looked back. So amazing.

Well, our pastor was against us moving. He made it clear that he had plans for us. We told him that we had to obey God’s word to us. He was not supportive, but did not try to stand in our way. We left without a church goodbye. The only people who saw us off were a few friends. We had been a part of this group for over ten years, yet left quietly, as though we no longer existed to the pastor and his wife.

In our new home, we planted ourselves as quickly as possible. I was very insecure in my new environment. Pressure to perform became more overwhelming. Inside of myself, I could hear my heart crying out for something, but for what I did not know. I tried my hardest to meet the expectations placed on women in the church. With five young children under nine, I could never catch up on laundry, cleaning, or serving my husband. Then there were multiple “opportunities” to serve the church. We were actually signed up for different areas of service, such as children’s ministry, without being asked. Life was going in full motion, but I just kept getting much sadder, heavier, and more fearful than ever.

These are some things that I saw: PDI leaders moved from what seemed to be true humility in the Lord into a pride in their knowledge of doctrine. I saw them stop the Holy Spirit from moving amongst the people on several occasions. I saw more emphasis placed on obeying leaders rather than on walking in your own faith. Leaders became more distant. Women who had once been joyful began to look burdened. Their eyes began to show a sort of desperation. I felt that same thing all the time. Surely this isn’t all there was to knowing the Lord? Follow doctrine, tell your sins at care group, bake brownies for some function, be at every meeting (or you felt guilty), feeling guilty because you couldn’t keep up with everything expected of you…at one point our pastor even preached that we should have no junk drawers. Can you imagine a mother of five worrying about her junk drawers? I couldn’t even get the mountain of laundry done!

Now for confession: I do not blame all my dependency on leaders on the church. My heart was also to blame. I wanted a king to rule me, a man to walk my walk of faith. My ego was involved. I wanted to be the best of the best in my Christian walk. I wanted to be like the “holy men” who led us, because then I would be acceptable to God. This wrong thinking enabled my slavery to the rules of men. My need to please these leaders kept me in service to a false gospel. I won’t speak for my husband. This was my failing, completely and utterly mine.

I began to hunger for more of God. I wanted an authentic experience with Him. Church was not enough anymore. I had to have Jesus! My heart began moaning for Him, in the grip of fear and desperation. I could no longer keep up with the Sovereign Grace Ministries machine. I was always falling short. I wanted out.

Now I’m going to share an experience I don’t speak of often. If you are a cessationist, you probably want to skip this part. One morning, as I was on my knees in my room, praying desperately for more of Jesus, I had a deep experience. Suddenly, it felt like Jesus was in the room with me. He was sitting on His throne, looking down at me with great sympathy but a mighty sternness. If I could have fallen through the floor, I would have. I could tell that He knew what was in my heart. I was Pharisaical, a legalist, a person without the knowledge of grace. I began to cry and tremble. I don’t know how long we sat together. For days after, I walked around saying, “Who can stand before God?” I was totally undone. I was made to look into God’s cup of wrath, yet not made to drink. This was my Isaiah experience. Truly, who can stand before God?

This went on for about a week. One night, I was watching a “Matthew” video. I got to the end, where the actor playing Jesus looks straight into the camera and smiles a beautiful, complete smile of love and acceptance. Tears streamed down my face as I rewound over and over to see that smile. The Lord had looked at me sternly, shown me His cup of wrath, kept me from drinking of it, then smiled at me with total acceptance and love. My heart overflowed with joy. I was forgiven. Jesus paid the price. I would never suffer God’s wrath!

After my Isaiah-like experience, I began to hunger for the Lord. I read alot of Andrew Murray books. My bible became fresher to me. My friend, who was going through a similar experience, would call me and we’d talk for long periods of time. We were fellowshipping in a way I hadn’t really known before.

For a period of about two months, I began missing church meetings due to sick children. My husband began to notice that I was growing in grace. When I’d go to a meeting, I would stumble into the old fears and expectations. He began to see that I did better spiritually when I was away from Sovereign Grace Ministries. That began to puzzle and intrigue him.

A time of refreshing came to our church. Sundays would find men, women, and children going to the front of the theatre where we met, praying and weeping. My husband and oldest son were among those. Though they both found it difficult to speak of what was happening to them, my husband and son experienced definite heart changes because the Holy Spirit touched them. They, too, began to want more of Jesus.

All too soon, the senior pastor stopped the times of refreshing. When asked, our CG leader said the SP decided that it wasn’t the direction he wanted our church to go in. The Holy Spirit’s moving amongst us was no longer welcome. Now, understand that there were no abuses that I could see, just sincere people being touched by God. Still, it was not what the SP wanted to happen.

At the same time, women were going off to have their own CG meetings, and men to theirs. The first few times our little group of women met, we bonded through prayer, confession, and love. There was such beauty in the way the Lord was bringing us together. Suddenly, the freedom we experienced was taken away. We were given lists of sins to talk about at the meetings. No longer was the Holy Spirit free to move. We were put into a strangle hold. My friend and I labored over the care group questions, trying to answer honestly, but it felt so forced. It just wasn’t real. My husband became involved as he saw how stressed out I would become over going to a women’s meeting. He saw that the grace I was newly walking in was being squashed by the forced sin-digging. Our whole church was becoming like this. Every meeting was about our sin. The freedom, the love of God, the hope began to drain away. We heard hardly anything about Jesus. The focus was more and more on doctrine and the cross, our sin nature, etc. Our souls were so hungry for more of Jesus. It became apparent that there was a real problem.

We and two other couples met with the leadership. We truly loved and respected one of these men, whom we’d known for years. Imagine our surprise and dismay to find that he was defensive, impatient, and even angry because we had questions about why he stopped the Holy Spirit from moving in our church. I looked at these leaders and realized that they had no love for us. You could tell that they’d been through these kind of meetings before. They had an agenda. It turned out to be, follow their vision for the church, or go somewhere else. I knew suddenly that I was free of these false shepherds. They had no real interest in my soul, only my obedience to them. My husband felt the same way.

Of course, the SP would disagree with our point of view. We know what we saw and heard that night. It caused us to flee this church like the hounds of hell were on our heels. If we had remained, we would have lost our focus on Christ. We would have sold Him out for doctrine, church building, and sin-digging. I’m sorry, but that sort of focus just doesn’t satisfy the hungry soul.

During the years after we left, we became part of a small house church of other ex-sgmers. For three or four years, we helped each other heal. Two of the men were saved and baptized. So were some of our children. I did enter into a time of depression as the Lord re-educated me. There was so much about Him that I did not know, so many misperceptions. He was faithful to walk me through, partly because of the grace that my husband constantly showed me. It was as though all my plate spinning ceased to exist. The plates fell to the floor and shattered. The house was never clean, the laundry never finished, meals were sparse…I just couldn’t function. I questioned everything I’d been taught. Yet still, my husband patiently encouraged me, releasing me from all expectations. Through his actions, I learned the truth about God’s abundant grace. Eventually, I was able to serve my family again.

I also learned, during more difficult times, about God’s goodness. During one of my more fearful moments, I heard the Lord ask, “Don’t you believe in My goodness?” After 20 years of faithful attendance and involvement in a Sovereign Grace Ministries church, I looked up at the sky with a frown and answered the Lord. “I don’t know what that means, Lord. I don’t understand.”

So He proceeded to show me. I went through a serious health crisis that continued for about five months. During the hospital trips, Dr.’s visits, and testing, I saw the Lord meet my needs at every turn. When I was afraid, He got to the hospital before me. He put angels called nurses into my life at just the right moments. When I had to have an MRI, and was terrified of being enclosed in the machine, the Lord gave me courage. I laid down on the bed, and it was rolled into the MRI machine. The minute I got inside, the Lord was already there. He communed with me during the 25 minutes of my isolation. He spoke of me becoming like a butterfly leaving its cocoon. He made special promises to me that I still hold close to my heart.

After surgery and weeks of recovery, I began to see how the Lord had changed me. I could now say to Him, “Yes, Lord. I do believe in your goodness.”

In 2006, my husband and I, along with our five kids and multiple animals, relocated to the mountains of CO. We are beginning to know the body of Christ in this little community, though we have not committed to one church alone. We know that we are waiting for something that the Lord wants to give. I continue to walk in grace. I have learned how to love. When I fall short of love, I know where to go to get a re-filling. I trust in God’s goodness, now. I walk in the freedom that the Lord has given me, yet I do not desire to sin. I have found that the more love the Lord stirs in me for Him, the less I want to hurt Him by doing wrong. It is grace that keeps me, not passion for doctrine or unquestioning obedience to a group of leaders.

When my husband pointed me to the SGM Survivor’s blog, I was dismayed, alarmed, and yet comforted by the many similar stories being told about the controlling spirit of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Somehow, after eleven years of being away from them, I had come to hope that things had changed for the better. It seems they have changed for the worse. I am so sorry to hear that. If the leaders won’t listen after the mountain of times their wrong behavior has been addressed, then maybe the people will. It is foolish to blindly follow a group or a man without any faith of your own. It is a travesty to relinquish your freedom in Christ. He shed His blood to give you that! My husband has said that, one day, we will all stand alone before the Lord. We won’t have our pastor, our cg leader, or our accountability partner beside us. We will stand or fall based on our own faith. Before we can be a church, we must be our own, individual temples where Christ is revered. The bride that Jesus is returning for will not be a blind follower of men and traditions. He is looking for the bride who has filled her lamp with oil, is waiting expectantly, keeping fully awake until her Bridegroom comes. That is the sort of church I want to be a part of.

Sorry for the length of this post. I have to admit that it is nice to be finished. It’s not easy to go back and stir up old memories like these. However, if anyone receives ears to hear and eyes to see because of reading this, then it’s worth the effort. God’s favor and spiritual blessing be with you all.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 22, 2012 11:27PM


I started attending Covenant Life Church right after college graduation in 1986–and stayed there, miserably trying to be godly enough to be accepted.

I married a former TAGer who got the “men rule” part, but not the “servant leadership” or the “support your family” parts. So I went to work, had a baby and prayed that my husband would step up so we wouldn’t starve and began church counseling. He didn’t step up, so after a year of cobbling together very part-time work with no benefits, I began teaching half-time (with full benefits–Thank you Lord for unions!)

The church went through Biblical Counseling and all that focus on my sinfulness and the three trees and replacing bad fruit with good fruit scared me. My child didn’t quite fit the mold–now I know that he has both LD and ED issues, but then I thought it was just me. I hated the Ferberizing. I hated the moralizing about how harmful watching Arthur on PBS was. I didn’t want to spank a toddler–and hated to hear about moms who had spanked their kid 10 times that morning only to discover he had an ear infection. My husband left marks on our toddler–that my mom photographed. I should have left then.

My boy started at Covenant Life School in kindergarten, but he learned differently and slowly and melted down when the principal tried to spank him. So we withdrew him and put him in public schools where his individual needs would be addressed better. Our care group was disbanded–and we drifted for a season.

We had another baby. Our new care group decorated the door and brought food. The CG leader and the pastor counseled my husband again about providing for the family. We talked about the “anger” issues at home. The answer was more prayer, more submission on my part, more church counseling. I started working fulltime, so we might find some minimal financial security (a small townhouse).

My beautiful 8 year old grew so despairing that he talked about drowning himself in the bathtub–our first trip to the ER soon followed, and meds, and a therapist. She wondered why he was so angry. His father tried to discipline him by casting out demons, by pinning him to the floor, by punching holes in the wall/door and more. He regularly told me that I should be grateful that he still wanted me, that we didn’t deserve nice things or kindness, that the LORD had told him to pursue this opportunity and someday it will all pay off, and on and on. He refused to pray with me because I didn’t have a prayer language. My despair grew–I had no girlfriends at church (in part because I was employed not home, my kid was in public school not at CLS or homeschooled, and there just isn’t enough time to seek out those who aren’t in the carpool lane with you, especially those who are bruised reeds), my home life was so NOT Covenant Life Church, and my extended family just wanted me out of there.

I did not sign the Covenant Life Church covenant (membership agreement)–it worried me, smacking of The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible. I saw such brokenness in folks I knew who had left the church, including the pastor who conducted our wedding and got caught up in the whole Larry Tomzak mess. I grew increasingly frustrated with the pastors’ attempts to address serious mental illness as sin, to see abuse as just another opportunity to practice peacemaking and to complete a three-trees model, to be handed Puritan texts (like the Doctrine of Repentance) as if they were the cure-all, and more.

However, when my son was hospitalized again in 2005 and I thought it very likely that Child Protective Services would be “visiting”, they did agree to let the Care Group help me get my husband out of the house. Periodically we would meet together with the pastors to continue counseling–and he grew increasingly hostile with them until he was dis-fellowshipped in 2007. He still attends Covenant Life Church regularly.

In October, I attended my last Sunday morning service at Covenant Life Church when the ladies on stage were singing and dancing about submission–and have not been back since. I’ve done some church shopping–and am attending lovely Episcopal church that is radically welcoming, non-hierarchical, with both male and female ministers. My son enjoys the Sunday evening service which gets it all done in 45 minutes–after years of messages alone that lasted that long (even in the youth meetings). My daughter alternates–a week with Dad and a week with Mom.

When I read about the Castillo children whose crazy father drowned them all a few months ago–and what that mom went through–and saw that she had only sought a “limited divorce” (basically a legal separation) I wondered if her pastors had told her that divorce was forbidden (except in cases of adultery)–as the Covenant Life Church pastors had told me and other wives in abusive marriages. And I wept. Why? Why? Why? Why?

“And yet, I feel confident in this, I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”

God has been so faithful to keep me close to Himself, to speak to me in the wilderness. Some friends have stuck by us–and some have not. I am so happy to be out of there–and am sickened by how long I drank the kool-aid, knowing it to be poisonous but looking at all the happy faces, hearing all the excitement, hoping that someday I too would have that life that looked so sweet.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 22, 2012 11:32PM


What alarms me of late about Sovereign Grace Ministries is that, when I post my story (soon, I hope) you will see that it took place twenty years ago. Canary’s exit from Sovereign Grace Ministries was 11 years ago. Jim and Carole’s exit was 2 years ago. And Concerned left three months ago.

These four stories are just a small sampling of the numerous stories told on the Survivors blog that span two decades or more. It is alarming how similar my story is to everyone else’s and that the same abuses have continued for so long. Some of the things Canary’s pastors said to her are EXACTLY the same things we were told, though we were in different parts of the country with different pastors at the helm.

This confirms again what I have long suspected. The authoritarian structure, the emphasis on sin, the tactics regarding how to deal with “problem” members MUST be taught from above. As I have said before (somewhere?), when we disagreed and confronted our PDI leader, there was a system already set in place to very quickly “deal” with us.

SGM Survivors

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 23, 2012 12:05AM


I am telling my story to document my own experiences with People of Destiny International / Sovereign Grace Ministries and confirm to others who are currently struggling with some of the same issues, now nearly 20 years later, that they are not alone.

First let me preface it by saying, I have no lingering animosity toward the players in my little drama. It has been many, many years and I am well. If I ran into them on the street, it would not be hard to warmly greet them. This is a testimony, not to my goodness or theirs, but to the faithfulness of the Lord and the passage of time.

When my husband and I encountered PDI, we were a young couple with an infant daughter. We began attending a small, independent church in the mid 80’s that had an emphasis on family, worship and grace. It was exactly what we were looking for. My husband became part of the worship team and we threw ourselves into the church community.

Shortly afterwards, it was announced that our church would be joining the PDI family of churches. One of the apostles came for an extended period to set the church in order, teaching PDI tenets and bringing everything up to PDI standard. The tone of the church was forever changed. Home group leaders were selected and my husband was asked to be one.

As I recall, my husband was not all that enthusiastic about home group leadership. He was working, raising a family and already serving on the worship team which required set up and tear down each week, as our building was rented. Our home was too small to host a group, so we were asked to lead a group hosted by another family. It all seemed a bit overwhelming at the time, but as it turned out, he was convinced by the leadership that this was where God wanted him to serve, despite his reservations.

Our year as home group leaders was one of the worst of our lives, not because of the folks in our group or our experiences with them, but because of trials we faced. On the contrary, these dear friends helped us through a personal tragedy (a mid-term miscarriage, where I went for a routine sonogram and there was no heartbeat) and an illness (I had a horrible case of chicken pox). They blessed us in so many ways during those difficult days. Our hearts were knit to them in a way that we had never experienced before in a church setting. Then, when our second child arrived, they rejoiced and celebrated with us with great enthusiasm. We were experiencing the “shared life” (which was a title of one of the Foundation Series classes back then).

However, there were problems by this point as well. It’s fair to say my husband never really connected with the pastor he was “under.” He got in trouble for not following directions regarding the way home groups were to be conducted, which if I remember correctly meant talking about the pastor’s Sunday sermon rather than an unrelated Bible study or discussion. He got in trouble for not correcting a member of our group who had a different perspective on an issue.

The “how to give and receive correction” sheets were distributed, taught and practiced without grace in some instances (IMO). The “woman” issue started to emerge, and the parenting errors like forcing toddlers to greet began as well. The pyramid hierarchy took shape, with the pastor investing in a few men (home group leaders, mostly) and the home group leaders then investing in men “under” them.

At the end of the year commitment to home group, we resigned. One of our closest friends stepped in to take our place. My husband went back to school to finish his degree, all the while still serving on the worship team and heading the set up/tear down team. The pastor was not pleased with him for this decision, but we were trying to follow God.

After my husband finished school (he didn’t have long to go), we re-presented ourselves to the pastor to see where he wanted us to serve. By this time, we had been indoctrinated with the pastoral authority mantra – the pastor is gifted and anointed to know where and how you are to serve in the local Body. We were somewhat skeptical, but decided to give it a shot again.

I remember thinking, if this authority stuff is right, then the pastor will know God’s will for us and it will be confirmed in our hearts. Again, keep in mind, my husband was STILL serving on the worship team, leading set up/tear down and somewhere along the line, even taught one of the Foundation Series classes for new members. I would have liked nothing better than to hear the pastor say, you’ve got young children at home, you’re already serving weekly in the church, that’s enough for now.

He did not. He wanted us to start a new home group. This time it was WAY across town in another family’s home. The fact that we had small children, limited finances, work schedule conflicts, etc. did not matter. More importantly, the fact that we had NO PEACE did not matter. After prayer, my husband called the pastor and declined the “offer.”

This went very, very badly. The pastor was demanding and rude. My husband was deemed “a problem” and “independent” because he wouldn’t do what the pastor told him to do. We were shocked and confused. After a time (a couple of days, maybe?) my husband called the pastor back to confront him, like we were taught on the correction sheets. Believe me, we had been required to correct folks for sin that was not nearly as obvious as this pastor’s display.

My husband’s sincere observation was – pastor, this feels more like a dictatorship than a church – maybe there is a spirit of control operating here. He wasn’t making demands or bringing division. The communication was private and, although those are strong words, his attitude was more along the lines of – hey, maybe we should ask the Lord about this. Even so, you can imagine, it didn’t go over very well.

That was the beginning of the end for us. The pastor set up a meeting with my husband and several other men. I was not specifically invited, but went anyway. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but my presence was not appreciated. The reason for the meeting was so my husband could explain his remarks about control issues and talk about the pastor’s bad reaction.

But that turned out to be a not-so-funny joke. For several hours, my husband faced a barrage of accusations and personal attacks. The pastor sat there, like a victim, while his henchmen, one of whom was a dear friend of my husband’s, jumped on the bandwagon. After awhile, I spoke up, saying – aren’t we here to look at the pastor’s sin? Then they turned their focus on me, which my husband put an end to immediately. The meeting was over.

We did not recant. (Nor did we speak to anyone else about it.) Because we wouldn’t recant, we were “counseled” to go elsewhere to church, somewhere we could trust the pastors to lead us. When asked if we had a choice in the matter, we were told, “no.” The apostle was in agreement and there were even signs and wonders confirming we had to go. We asked what Scripture their actions were based on, but never got an answer. A person was sent to our house to remove my husband’s worship song book, like a soldier being stripped of his rank. At least some of our friends were told that we had a Jezebel spirit and we were compared somehow to Ananias and Saphira. Then the shunning began. With a few notable exceptions, our “shared life” was gone. Some people actually seemed frightened of us. We were devastated.

The YEARS that followed were lonely and dark. In fact, as I look back, it was the aloneness that hurt the worst. Like many in PDI, we had few relationships outside of the church and the overnight change from “one big family” to “nothing” was stark.

We tried to defend ourselves. That did not go well, as everyone was so afraid of being accused of gossip or slander. Daily, we faced the accusation from the enemy of our souls that these great PDI men, whom we had such respect for, were sitting on one side of the table, with God, while we were on the other side, opposing them and Him. So fierce and persistent was the enemy with these lies that our family nearly fell apart.

Awhile later (months, maybe as long as a year), we received a letter from the pastor. He apologized for the “mutual escalation” in our situation. Not too thrilled with the “mutual” part, but his letter was cordial enough. We were grateful for what we got.

And now comes my favorite part of the story. God moved in our lives! He sent His Spirit to heal and restore those locust-filled years. Along the way, He used some dear saints to speak His Truth and pray His Heart for us and in time, we were healed.

We had gained understanding of PDI’s errors, but we also needed to know our own. The Lord was faithful to reveal and convict us of the sins which had allowed us to become ensnared in the first place. How could we EVER allow any man to stand between us and the Lord, who paid so dear a price to provide a new covenant? Why did we care so much about pleasing those men and fitting into the mold? How could we have gone against God’s Word and our own consciences in some of the graceless proceedings there?

We had to come to grips with the fact that WE had wounded folks by towing the PDI line. That WE had given permission for a man to step between us and Jesus, our True Mediator. That WE had allowed pride and then fear to be our motivator instead of God’s Love. It was gut-wrenching and humbling, but so freeing!

I’m grateful to God that He walked us through. I have such joy now in knowing that NEVER again will I hitch up that yoke of slavery. It is for freedom that Christ has set me free! We are free! We are healed!

There is hope and a future for those who have been wounded and left in the wake of PDI authoritarianism. God has not given up on you, even if PDI has. You are not alone!

It is my prayer that God will redeem that which the enemy meant for evil and turn it for His Glory. If sharing my story can in any way assist in that goal, I’m thrilled.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 23, 2012 12:15AM


I left Sovereign Grace Ministries 13 years ago after being involved deeply for 14 years (’81-’95). I left under good terms, but am still troubled by what I experienced. I am wondering how many people noticed or experienced the following treatment:

1. Demand for complete devotion and obedience

2. Complete conformity in everything from doctrine to dress

3. Any views contrary to those of leadership are wrong (not to mention that those views change)

4. If you disagree with correction you are prideful an unteachable

5. Summary dismissal or reassignment of leadership responsibilities for any reason with out discussion

6. Gathering information on people to build a case against them

7. Lying

8. Leadership reserves the right to tell someone what their “gift” is. This can be used to accomplish # 5 if no damning evidence is found. Note that your gift definition can be changed at any time to suit the goals of leadership.

9. “Passive excommunication” Those that do not agree with leadership or simply want to do something different (than the current ministry model) are not chosen for leadership and are encouraged to leave Sovereign Grace Ministries.

10. Be quiet. You cannot discuss any opinion, idea, project, or issue not approved by SGM leadership. Members often support the hush policy.

11. Pride. Other churches are not as good as we are. Para-church organizations are bad. Leaders are elevated to an unhealthy position.

12, Curses. You won’t do well if you leave. If you do not submit (to extra-biblical rules), you are out of God’s will and will face consequences.


Finally, can any one help me understand why after so long, the experience at SGM hurts so badly. I have continued to attend church but have never regained my confidence.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 23, 2012 12:21AM


1. Demand for complete devotion and obedience

Yes. I couldn’t even criticize Sheree Philip’s book in small group.

2. Complete conformity in everything from doctrine to dress

Yes. I got into trouble for the way I breastfed my children.

3. Any views contrary to those of leadership are wrong (not to mention that those views change)

Ezzo parenting is doctrine (or was,) responsive parenting; “Some would say you’re in sin” (direct quote.)

4. If you disagree with correction you are prideful an unteachable

Exact accusation because I wouldn’t agree to not discuss my parenting philosophies with others in the church.

5. Summary dismissal or reassignment of leadership responsibilities for any reason with out discussion

Well, the discussion was one sided. It was a meeting to tell us to leave.

6. Gathering information on people to build a case against them

We got to hear the children of care group leaders’ children report on another couple in our care group. I was shocked.

7. Lying


8. Leadership reserves the right to tell someone what their “gift” is. This can be used to accomplish # 5 if no damning evidence is found. Note that your gift definition can be changed at any time to suit the goals of leadership.

Or to basically tell you that you don’t have any gifts. (Not directly said but implied and dh and I were told that we would *never* be considered for leadership roles.

9. “Passive excommunication” Those that do not agree with leadership or simply want to do something different (than the current ministry model) are not chosen for leadership and are encouraged to leave SGM.

We had our membership revoked but were chided for suggesting we were excommunicated, semantics and all.

10. Be quiet. You cannot discuss any opinion, idea, project, or issue not approved by SGM leadership. Members often support the hush policy.


11. Pride. Other churches are not as good as we are. Para-church organizations are bad. Leaders are elevated to an unhealthy position.

Yes. When our old church purchased land and began a building campaign, people’s sacrifices were mentioned. People were catagorized as “members,” and “leaders.” (Again allusions to Orwell’s Animal Farm.)

12, Curses. You won’t do well if you leave. If you do not submit (to extra-biblical rules), you are out of God’s will and will face consequences.

One parting comment from one of our ex pastors was that our marriage wouldn’t last ten years. How dare the cad say that about our marriage!

Wow! 10 out of 10. Dubious distinction, huh?

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 23, 2012 12:46AM

GREG’S STORY - part 2

I came to Christ and joined Gathering of Believers in College Park Maryland in 1981 at the tender age of 18. Coming out of an abusive background, I was really in need. I have to say from the first up to this day I have been well loved, cared for, and respected by my friends at what became Covenant Life Church. Overall it was a wonderful experience that grounded me in Christ.

Many may be surprised know that in the beginning, Gathering of Believers / Covenant Life Church / Sovereign Grace Ministries was doctrinally open and influenced by classic Christian writers such as C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer and other “mystics” that emphasized a strong devotional life and hearing God for yourself. There was also a strong emphasis on missions and social issues. Ironically, my embrace of these foundations would prove to be my undoing as the organization changed.

There was some evidence legalism and control early on. For example, you had to ask permission to date. Having plenty experience with controlling personalities, I attributed this to immaturity in specific people, and I generally ignored attempts to control me.

I served in a variety of lay leadership roles over the years and I personally knew most of the early leaders (Several of these men have had to leave Sovereign Grace Ministries in order to fulfill their calling.) Overall my ministry experience was well rounded and quite positive. My problems began when I entered cell group leadership and developed an interest in missions.

I led a successful group which multiplied into two groups. At that time, my pastor met with me and told me that I had not only a gift of leadership but a “rare ability to develop leadership in others.” However, I found myself constantly butting heads with leadership over how to run a cell group. I was supposed to dress preppy (I’m a musician, and I’m leading singles in their 20s). I was supposed to go through whatever book was the “next greatest thing”. However, I was more interested in developing leadership in men. I noticed since we were always reading books, none of them had ever learned how to lead a bible study. So I wanted to teach hermeneutics, bible study, and facilitation. I had to fight for permission to do that. One of the books we were all supposed to read was heretical. I got into a major fight with my pastor over it. When I escalated the matter to senior leaders, they finally read the damn thing and agreed with me. The questionable chapters were now optional reading. However, I was rebuked for discussing the issue in a cell group meeting. About a year later, the author was exposed for immorality and the book was forever dropped from the Covenant Life Church reading list.

Things came to a head when participation in my original group declined. At one meeting, I challenged the group to decide if they really wanted to meet. If so, great, if not, then I would recommend to the pastor that we disband and find other groups to attend. Admittedly, my approach to the problem could have been more graceful. Ironically, the group responded very positively. About a week later, I was called into his office on a Saturday morning and dismissed from leadership effective immediately. There was no process, prior discussion, or anything I could do. Man was I hurt. I had poured my heart and soul into cell group ministry. His observation was that I did not have a leadership gift and was not called to leadership. Such a gift would be evidenced by success (note the circular reasoning). I had no problem with stepping down; frankly, I was burnt out. However, I challenged both the basis and the process for my dismissal. I also refused to talk with him unless his senior leader was present.

That led to a painful series of meetings over nine months with him and his pastor. To their credit, they were willing to meet with me for however long it took to resolve the matter. My pastor tricked my friends into cooperating with an investigation of my faults. My character and motives were constantly challenged. Finally, I caught my pastor in a lie in front of his pastor. The senior leader asked me to leave for a moment, and when I returned, they apologized sincerely. (This may have been a historic event). I have to admit that this process was extremely difficult. It required a lot of strength, persistence, and all the tactical skill of a trial lawyer. Understandable, most SGM members don’t make it through the process, and just leave. I would not have but for the grace of God.

I then turned to my attention to the “not a leader” claim. I told the senior leader that I did not want to be branded. I had to recount my history with Covenant Life Church, everything they had said about me in the past, and of course, the doctrinal problems with their ideas about gift identification. They finally agreed that I was eligible for future leadership positions. The whole thing boiled down to my pastor feeling that he was losing control of the group and felt he had to do something. The only remaining question was whether I would remain at Covenant Life Church due to my interest in pioneer missions.

(Note: I never took on the shift to Calvinism which was taking place that time. I had observed others charge up hamburger hill and get shot down, and I was not interested in going there.)

That leads me to the coup de grace. I had started a missions prayer meeting with other folks that lasted several years and formed the basis of the Covenant Life Church international ministry. This same pastor viewed the meeting as subversive and was always trying to find out what was going on and if he could shut it down. It was comical if not sad. Around the time that the church plant in Manila was shut down and Larry’s sister and brother in law were forced out. C.J. shut down the whole missions focus on the basis that PDI was not “called” to pioneer missions. That left those of us who were mission minded hanging with nothing to do. I love C.J., but I have to disagree with the whole series of events that led to Larry being phased out and the vision of PDI changing.

Over the next few years (early 90s), I met periodically with leaders about my interest in pioneer church planting. I did not aspire to be a pastor, but I really wanted to join a church planting team in a Muslim country. I had intentionally chosen a mission agency that was very similar to PDI in its views of apostolic ministry and church planning. This, of course, was out of the question. The reasoning was as follows:

1. All mission efforts other than church planning as practiced by PDI do not result in lasting fruit
2. Only pastors selected by the apostolic team can start new churches
3. You are not called to be a pastor
4. Therefore, you cannot plant a church

I was accused of being proud. One pastor claimed that I was only interested in missions for the “glory”. Anyone who has served in foreign missions knows how absurd that comment is. I was in a painful dilemma of having to chose between staying at my church, the only home I had ever known, and obeying God in regard to missions (Rom 15:20-21). In retrospect, I should never have been placed in that position.

Unable to leave Covenant Life Church, I tried to do both. This proved to be difficult as they refused to give me a clear recommendation, and I was placed under restrictions. The pastoral recommendation sent to my mission agency was worded something like, “we confirm that Greg feels a call to missions”. My agency had some familiarity with PDI and agreed to let me proceed under that condition that I improve the sending relationship. My situation was made more difficult due to a variety or restrictions PDI placed on me. I was not allowed to address the congregation (most of whom I knew) or any cell groups, and I was not allowed to raise funds publicly. Obviously, I objected that they did not have the authority to tell me who I could and could not talk to. Finally, they conceded to allow me to talk about my mission with my friends. Having few relationships outside of Covenant Life Church, I was forced to try to make this work.

By the grace of God, I managed to pay for all my own training over a two year period, form a support team, and raise funds for an exploratory trip. I received fantastic support from my friends in Covenant Life Church, but opposition from leadership. Quite a few people in Covenant Life Church with missions interest were watching to see what would happen with me.

I finally made it to the field. Before I left, I entrusted a description of my trip and a prayer letter with my pastor. Since I had to do everything through him, he promised to give copies to the pastoral team, all of whom I had know and worked with over the years. Some had interest in my plans. I deeply coveted their prayers and covering.

Conditions on the field were rough. All I will say is that it was a Muslim country in the middle of a civil war, and you can imagine the rest. Nevertheless, I felt that I was in the center of God’s will like never before. I returned to the U.S. three months later due to illness and the need to raise support. Despite all that happened on the field, my return home was absolutely devastating. Having adapted quickly to field conditions, reverse culture shock was unbelievable. No one understood what I was going through, though my friends helped as best as they could. I fell into a deep depression. One day, one of the pastors, a friend of mine, ran into me in church and said, “Hey Greg, I haven’t seen you for a while, where have you been?”

That was the final blow. No wonder I was struggling. My letter never made it past my pastor. I had been completely uncovered with virtually no prayer support. When I asked my pastor what happened, he said he forgot. I doubt that. I think it was intentional, the latest in a series of controlling actions. What really hurt we was that I had served these guys for 14 years, doing everything asked of me, making every effort maintain good relations, and in the end, when my life was on the line, they deserted me.

I was lost. After another year of not knowing what to do, my mission finally asked that I not return to the field until I found a suitable sending church. I asked God to end it for me. I can’t preach the gospel, I really don’t want to live.

Finally, a local pastor found out about my situation and sent me a tape to encourage me. I got up the courage to leave Covenant Life Church. Why was that so hard? Why had I not done it years earlier?

I left Covenant Life Church under good terms in ‘95. I was never shunned. Years later when a friend was planning to leave, C.J. told him, “If you want to know how to leave a church well, ask Greg; he did it right.” Unfortunately, I was not well. I went back to work and never went back to the field except for some short trips to various places. I still regret that. I’ve wandered from church to church and just gone through the motions of life. I fell into addictive sin, from which I am just recovering in the last two years. Through it all God has been kind and merciful and has carried me a blessed me with a family, for which I am very grateful. My wife probably saved my life although she is still hurt by my past behavior.

This brings me to last weekend and why I am writing. A close friend of many years asked me to join the board of directors of his mission. He is a successful African pastor and a former Covenant Life Church member who I met during my early days there. On the plane headed to the annual board meeting, I sat next to another African pastor. He told me his story, how he had been betrayed by church leaders in the states, and how that almost destroyed his vision. A knife went through my heart and I cried.

I take full responsibility for my actions in recent years and the consequences, but it is clear that his deep sense of betrayal, failure, and remorse weighs heavily on me still, and I must be healed from that before I can continue with the original plan and design God has for my life.

Thank you for listening. I don’t seek to accuse anyone. I hope sharing my story will be part of the healing process and help others. No matter what you are going through at Sovereign Grace Ministries, above all, maintain your integrity, because in the end, it may be the only thing you have left.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 23, 2012 01:01AM


My wife and I (And 4-6 other families, including the former worship leader) left a Sovereign Grace Ministries church less than a year ago, after seven years. We were a part of starting the church, were in leadership as Care Group Leaders, and served in other areas of service leadership. Our experience is similar to what I have been reading in blogs.

The leadership structure was sinfully authoritarian and controlling. We first noticed this when several families (friends) abruptly left years before we did. I was at that time stunned that anyone would leave what I considered to be the perfect church, so I reached out to these families to better understand what they were going through.

The pastor was extremely irritated that I had the audacity to go and talk with these former members without notifying him. Other members asked me if I had gotten the pastor’s permission before I went and talked to them. At first I didn’t understand and just felt like, “What do you mean ‘permission’?” It turns out that the families all left in response to the control and abuse they experienced, though I didn’t understand what they were talking about at the time and I guess I blamed them.

Our story began when my wife and I initiated a friendly meeting with our pastor/friend about what seemed to us to be a subtle shift in the church away from grace and toward legalism (The sermons, Care Group themes, etc.) It seemed like we were beginning to “drop the ball,” to quote CJ, when it came to the gospel.

Well, we left the meeting 3-hours later, feeling well corrected, as the pastor and assistant pastor tag teamed us. This started a series of forced meetings with the pastors, over the course of a year or more, where our hearts were examined and we were denied attendance at the care group of our choice and warned to not talk to others about anything. Eventually, I was told that I could not count the offering anymore (I was the lead guy), then could not be on the Greeting Team, and finally, we were told we could not attend Care Group at all.

Many people were shocked, but assumed the pastors knew what they were doing so didn’t ask questions. It was at this time that sermons from the pulpit were about, “protecting your pastors,” and “submitting to their authority and making it a joy to lead you.” I was determined to stay with my church family, His Body, and not succumb to the bullying by the pastors, but after receiving an absurd e-mail with accusations from the pastor, and feeling somewhat shunned by some others, we decided to leave peacefully to avoid a fight.

I am concerned that this is not a local problem, but Sovereign Grace Ministries-wide. I am sure that our pastors’ behavior was either condoned or overlooked by the regional Sovereign Grace Ministries leadership team here. I think I will post this in other blogs as this is the first time I have summarized our experience.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 23, 2012 01:15AM


My name is Ryan, I’m 22, and I was an intern at the Sovereign Grace Ministries church in St. Petersburg, Florida. When I posted at SGM Survivors about 6 months ago, I used the name “exintern” because I hoped that a little anonymity would help protect me in my efforts to salvage some of my friendships at the church.

The lies my old senior pastor spread about me have pretty much ended 95% of those friendships, so I don’t have anything to gain anymore by not disclosing my name. So, here I am, I’m not concerned with who knows I’m on here anymore, though I’ll probably keep posting under “exintern” for the sake of continuity.

I came to Sovereign Grace Ministries in 2002 as a senior in high school. I made some friends, settled in despite some misgivings about the church’s lack of missions/evangelism (I’ve wanted to be a missionary since I was about 11), and became a member.

I’m a bit of a theology/philosophy of religion nerd, so I got noticed by the leadership fairly quickly. I moved up the ranks (at an unprecedentedly young age for a non-pastor’s relative) and drank pretty deeply from the Mahaney Kool-Aid, as Jim might put it. This all culminated with me being made a pastoral intern in 2006.

I agreed to one year of part-time interning. After 6 months, though, I knew I was done. I was seeing behind closed doors now, and I saw an awful lot I didn’t like. I saw manipulation and controlling of church members. I saw a CEO-like leadership style from the senior pastor, with his supposed “plurality of elders” really nothing more than yes-men. I saw what I considered to be irresponsible uses of church finances. I saw major decisions being made with zero transparency to the church body. I wasn’t ok with any of it, so I started looking for a way out.

In January of 2007, I was engaged to my lovely wife Fallon (who had started working for a pro-life organization). I told the senior pastor that I wasn’t making enough money to support a wife (which was true, they never ended up paying me despite the pastor’s promise to “do what they could”. Thank the Lord I still had my college Starbucks job). I went out and got a job teaching math at a local public school, and quietly started looking/praying for another church.

Fallon and I were married in June. Some family issues that the pastors grossly mishandled/committed spiritual abuse in over the summer caused me to expedite the church-searching process. In October we found a wonderful church and made the switch. I wrote a very complimentary email to the pastors, both thanking them for all that they had done for me, and explaining in as un-insulting terms as I could muster what my disagreements were. The two main issues I mentioned were a lack of missions and evangelism, and my problems with the church polity structure. I thought this was the end.

Our senior pastor emailed me back and asked if Fallon and I would meet with him & his wife, to which we agreed. Big mistake. They met us in a public place, and the pastor yelled and screamed at us, and called me insulting names like “insane”. Fallon was in tears, and we were both embarrassed by the public setting. We left, again thinking this was the end.

A few weeks later, I found out that a church meeting had been called about us. During this meeting, the senior pastor had decided to spread lies about me from the pulpit. He told the congregation that my reasons for leaving were fabricated and bogus, that I had lied to Fallon about my reasons for leaving and manipulated her, that she wanted nothing to do with our leaving, and that they should pray for her. I found all of this out from old friends coming to confront me, including my own brother-in-law calling me an “emotionally-abusive husband” to my face. I quickly found that I had very few friends anymore.

Fallon called many of the ladies in the church to assure them that I had not abused her in any way, that she was very happy in our marriage, and that she had agreed with all of my reasons for leaving and that she was pleased with our new church. Rather than call me and apologize, people in the church just started shunning her too.

So here we are. We have been very blessed by our new church, where the pastor has ministered to us greatly. I haven’t forgotten my desire to be a missionary. 3 weeks from yesterday we’re moving to Boston so that I can attend law school: my goal is to be an attorney/missionary with International Justice Mission and fight against slavery and sex trafficking in Africa or Asia. My beautiful wife continues in her calling to fight in the pro-life cause, working with crisis pregnancy centers here now, and hopefully in Boston soon, and who knows where in the future.

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