Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Date: August 23, 2012 02:49AM
My story is dated now and my wife and I have long since moved on from People of Destiny International / Sovereign Grace Ministry. But we still sometimes talk about the great work the Lord started in Cleveland, Ohio through PDI, and how disappointing that we all weren’t able to sustain it.
North Coast Church was one of PDI’s first church plants in Cleveland, Ohio . Larry and Doris Tomczak and a small team came to Larry’s hometown to start a church in the southwest suburbs. My wife was one of the first locals to join up, and she and some of the other single women were discipled by Doris Tomczak while Larry worked with the men. Within a few years, the church had almost 1000 members and was one of the most influential churches in NE Ohio.
When I joined in 1984, Steve Shank was the senior pastor and the church was clearly thriving. Larry T. still visited often and his sister and her husband were influential members. The church was made up of mostly young marrieds and hundreds of committed singles. Many singles such as my wife and I lived in singles households. I grew up in a large unchurched family, and my brothers and sisters were amazed at the number of friends we all had. We were convinced we were at the center of what the Lord was doing in Cleveland.
But there were problems behind the scenes. The first Sunday I attended, one of the four pastors announced that he was stepping down from leadership. Steve Shank said that this pastor needed more time to work on his marriage and his calling. The pastor did not seem to agree, as he said the Lord was calling him to Canada. Steve Shank said the other pastors could not lay hands on him and bless his decision.
Soon after, the church announced a new plant in Akron (about an hour south of Cleveland) . Another of the four pastors was sent out to lead that church. But in less than a year the pastor was gone and disillusioned. There is still a Sovereign Grace Ministries church in Akron today, but it has never really grown much after 20 years.
Steve Shank handed off the church to the third pastor, Ken Roberts, in 1985 , and headed off to Virginia Beach to start another PDI work. But Steve and Ken did not see eye-to-eye, and eventually Steve and Dave Harvey asked Ken to step down as senior pastor. Ken Roberts did not agree, and the majority of the pastoral team backed Ken. So in 1994 , the members of NCC received a letter from Ken and the pastors stating that our church was ending its relationship with PDI because of doctrinal and leadership differences. Many people such as my wife and I were hurt and confused, and there was no real explanation from either our church or from PDI.
After much prayer, my wife and I decided to leave North Coast Church and started attending the closest PDI church in Akron. Many others left, many stayed at NCC, but long-time friendships were severed. If any of you have experienced a church split, you know how wrenching that can be.
We and many others appealed to Dave Harvey to please not abandon a PDI vision for Cleveland. Enough of us called that Dave agreed to come and meet with us. Several hundred people came to the meeting at a hotel with Dave Harvey and Steve Shank. People hugged and cried and believed God would raise up another great church in Cleveland. But Dave and Steve had a list of criteria before a church could be planted. There would need to be a commitment of support, and the PDI leadership would need to pray about whether they could support a new plant. We were told to wait and pray. Many of us did both, but it was almost 2 years before a decision to plant a Cleveland church was made.
Most of the several hundred people at the original meeting, including my wife and I, had moved on to other churches by that time. We eventually left the Akron church because it was too far, and floundered for a few years, but today we are happily plugged in to a CMA church.
I wish the story had a better ending. North Coast Church also suffered after leaving PDI. The name changed, Ken Roberts eventually left, and today it has only a few hundred attenders. The Cleveland SGM church today, like the one in Akron, has remained small without a permanent church building.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the failures here in Cleveland. Leadership could not stay united, and most of us saints did not have the faith to persevere when our world was shaken. But I cant help wonder why the PDI team didn’t see hundreds of people showing up on a winter night from just word of mouth as a clear sign that the Lord still had work for them in Cleveland. And I also wonder why the PDI/SGM and NCC leadership couldn’t work together to save a great church.
But praise the Lord that He is faithful , even when we are weak! Today there are many strong and growing churches in Cleveland. And almost everyone one of them has a few ex NCC members on the road to full healing.