November 22 2011 at 6:36 pm
The following letter was e-mailed to all church members today. We hope everyone is served by us being redundant and posting it here as well.
Dear Covenant Life Church,
Grace to you from your brothers on the pastoral team. We’re writing to give a “family update” on recent events, including the Sovereign Grace Pastors Conference earlier this month. We also want to thank you for your ongoing prayers and expressions of encouragement to us.
First, our team, led by Kenneth Maresco, is working hard on a draft of our new church constitution. This is a top priority. This past week Kenneth, Corby Megorden and Ben Wikner, accompanied by three church members, visited CrossWay Community Church, in Bristol, Wis., where Mike Bullmore is senior pastor, to learn more about their constitution, attend an elders meeting, and discuss how the involvement of lay pastors (or elders) works there. Mike and his team have been good friends for many years, and we’re grateful for their help and counsel.
A Letter to the Churches
Before the Pastors Conference, the Sovereign Grace Board sent a letter to all the pastors of SGM sharing their disagreement and concerns regarding the content of our church’s October 30 Members Meeting. (If you would like to read the letter, let us know, and we’ll be happy to send you a copy.) The Board had informed us several weeks before that they might send out a letter stating their disagreements with our leadership over the past few months, so this wasn’t a surprise for us.
We don’t feel it’s wise to engage in a “back and forth” of letters at this time, and so we are not currently planning to respond to their letter. We stated our areas of disagreement clearly at our last Members Meeting, and we will keep communicating where we differ, with love and respect. We don’t want to make an issue of the Board sending this letter to SGM pastors—in fact, we are in favor of more open communication between the churches in the future. A number of SGM pastors have told us they were grateful to be able to read and better understand our position.
One of the most significant moments of the Pastors Conference was when C.J. shared with all the pastors and wives about what he’s learned during his Leave of Absence (LoA). Our pastoral team was disappointed by the tone and posture of C.J.’s remarks, and we feel strongly that it’s appropriate for you to read them, because they reflect apparent changes in his thinking about his LoA and his confession to our congregation at the July 10 Members Meeting. We understand that a number of you have read the remarks online (they have been published on at least two blogs) and found them troubling as well. We’ve asked the SGM Board to make the audio and/or transcript of this session readily available to our church, but we have not heard back as of this writing. We look forward to sharing our thoughts with C.J. and the SGM Board directly and hearing from the Board on whether they support C.J.’s statements.
Another important session at the Pastors Conference was when Jeff Purswell presented a preliminary draft of the SGM Partnership Agreement, a document designed to define the relationship of SGM to its member churches. There were encouraging signs of a degree of forward progress, but on certain significant points this draft is nearly identical to the Partnership Agreement currently in effect. Since our future relationship with SGM would be spelled out in this agreement, we were particularly interested to see the section that addresses the accountability of the SGM Board. However, that language had not yet been drafted.
We are hoping to have a meeting with Jeff and John Loftness soon (along with other pastors in our region) to share our questions, clarify statements Jeff made at the conference, and better understand the Board’s thoughts about reform. Jeff made it very clear that he was presenting only a draft and that the SGM Board is inviting input. We are grateful for this invitation and look forward to more dialogue with the Board and other SGM pastors.
We’ve been informed that the three panels, each comprised of two SGM pastors and one SGM board member (for a description, see the “Pastoral review” section of this blog post on the SGM website), have been constituted and will immediately begin to evaluate the documents written by Brent Detwiler. We understand that the panels will not only be evaluating C.J.‘s fitness for the role of President but also concerns for Sovereign Grace as a whole. The panels are scheduled to complete their process and publish their findings sometime in December. We do not know which men are on these panels, since the SGM board has decided to keep their identities confidential until the panels’ work is complete. Please pray for this work. Please pray, too, for Kenneth, Grant and Josh, as they have been asked to appear and be interviewed.
Statements made at the Pastors Conference and the letter from the SGM Board have served to heighten our concerns about the direction of SGM, and consequently, our church’s partnership with SGM going forward. However, we feel that more conversation and dialogue are needed to both honor our long history together and love these men as brothers.
We will keep pressing for clear accountability for the board, clarification of the nature of the partnership between SGM and its member churches, and due process for the charges and criticisms SGM has received. We also believe it’s important to allow time for other SGM pastors to share their concerns with the Board, to wait for reports from the three panels (due in December), and to see how the AoR Group Reconciliation report (due in March) will be processed. We don’t feel rushed to make a decision about our long-term partnership right now. We also want to put to rest any rumors that staying in SGM somehow jeopardizes our staff or facility. The SGM board would not desire to remove our pastors or take our building or anything of the kind, even if they had that authority.
For all of these reasons, we’re continuing a course of deliberate, prayerful evaluation.
We have had an initial conversation with our Financial Advisory Board (made up of four members) to discuss the level of our giving to SGM. We plan to have a further meeting and involve additional members in this decision. We will keep you updated on our progress.
A lot of information has been flying around these past few months. If you find yourself confused by what the real issues are, we would encourage to you to re-read and re-listen to the following things:
1. May 22 Members Meeting
This meeting was the first public step in our local church walking a path of repentance. In this meeting we identified some key areas we’ve gotten wrong as pastors. Reviewing this meeting can help remind us that the problems in SGM are also problems in our church that we need to continue to humbly address.
2. July 10 Sunday Sermon
This sermon (from the weekend after Brent Detwiler’s documents were first released) is a call for our church to view this trial as an expression of God’s loving, fatherly discipline. We still believe this is the posture we should take as a church. Instead of dismissing problems or defending ourselves, let’s ask the Lord to refine us and reform us.
3. October 30 Members Meeting
This meeting laid out a clear vision for where we are going as a local church—greater partnership between pastors and members in advancing the gospel. We want to be “Jesus-ruled, pastor-led and congregationally accountable.” We also laid out specific points of disagreement with the SGM Board and concerns we have regarding our partnership with Sovereign Grace.
Thank you for your faith in God and your prayers for Covenant Life. Thanks, too, for your frequent words of encouragement. God is at work in our church. Let’s keep our eyes fixed on him. If you find your soul troubled and anxious, remember Philippians 4:6-8:
… do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Let’s continue to wait on him and trust in him.
Your pastors (and brothers)