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Sunday
Mar182012

The Coming Tsunami

When we first came out with the logo for Sovereign Grace Ministries the meaning was not obvious to me.  I came to discover the droplet hitting the placid water surface that created outgoing and concentric ripples stood for the growing influence of SGM and the gospel.  The logo has since been modified. When I look at it today, the ripples remind me of a fast approaching Tsunami.

When Dave Harvey was interim President, he signed off on letters or blog posts and typically added “on behalf of the Board.”  C.J. is not affixing his name to anything.  This doesn’t mean he is more humble than Dave.  Just more street smart.  Out of sight, out of mind.  He’s happy to be the invisible President.  But the letter below is C.J.’s letter.  Not that other men didn’t make suggestions.  I’m sure some did.  But it reflects his heavy handed way of suppressing dissent in a nicely worded but deceptively written letter.  

I’ve copied the letter and interspersed my remarks in blue ink.  The underlining is mine also.

##

An update from the Board

March 13, 2012

Dear Brothers,

Thanks so much for getting back to us regarding the proposed board nominees.  We appreciate you taking the time to let us know your thoughts.  We realize that for some, the time frame we gave for responding may have seemed short given the seeming importance of this, and for others the process we have undertaken in establishing a new board has raised some questions.

This should read, “Thanks so much, we appreciate your thoughts but we don’t agree with a word you wrote and we are not going to do anything you asked us to consider.  Furthermore there was nothing wrong with the time frame.  Anyway, picking a new Board is unimportant (even though we contradict ourselves later in this letter when we say, “The board of the next few years will carry an enormous responsibility for our movement.”).  And get this straight.  Pastors in the movement only have “questions,” not concerns (God forbid), about the nomination and selection process for new Board Members.  So get over it and get with it.  None of this is a big deal.  It just seems that way to you.

We wanted to give some explanations as to why we’ve done it this way in the hope it may bring some clarity.

Is this a new polity?  Our goal in this process is not to create a new polity.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  We are seeking to avoid creating new polity at this point and instead are transitioning to a board that will work in partnership with our pastors to move the polity process forward.  We believe the appropriate way to accomplish this transition is to honor our current polity while at the same time strengthening accountability for it.

Of course, the interim Board doesn’t want new polity (read “Candy Cotton”).  That’s the problem.  They want to maintain (“honor”) their lock down on power.  They nominate and appoint all Board Members and Officers.  This letter illustrates the kind of “partnership” the SGM pastors have experienced in the past and can expect in the future.  Don’t expect any substantive changes as a new Board “move[s] the polity process forward.” 

The board has always had the obligation to appoint board members, the freedom to expand the board, and the responsibility to appoint the leadership team.  The interim board is acting under the authority of this current polity.  

This will never change so long as C.J. is alive.  The Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws grant all authority to the Board to appoint a new or expanded Board and select Officers.  The same is true with the Leadership Team.  That is their legal right but that is what Mark Mullery and friends want to talk about and change.  This kind of change won’t happen on C.J.’s watch or his chosen successor’s.  He not going to make a “Joshua” mistake again.    

However, we are advocating a board that will increase the involvement of SGM elders in our governance, broaden our leadership base, increase the accountability of the board to our churches (by subjecting them to an affirmation process for appointment and reappointment), and increase the accountability of the leadership to the board (by separating the two bodies and ensuring most board members are not SGM staff).  These modifications don’t reflect a change in polity, but they do inject a level of accountability into our structures that we believe is necessary and helpful, and that is consistent with our communications with pastors and our general polity direction.

I’ve already shown in “Cotton Candy” that the affirmation process does not “increase the accountability of the board to our churches.”  This is just hype!   Likewise the creation of “two bodies.”  These are mere “modifications” that DO NOT “inject a level of accountability into our structures.”  More hype!  They only thing that will result in true accountability is the one thing they are unwilling to do.  That is, make serious changes in The Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and Membership Agreement.  If you change them you can change the power structure.    

There are 11 interim Board Members.  The eight additions (Aron Osborne, Craig Cabaniss, John Loftness, Mark Prater, Mickey Connolly, Pete Greasley, Rick Gamache and Steve Shank) were handpicked in July 2011 by C.J., Dave and Jeff Purswell after Joshua Harris resigned.  They proved to be pawns and puppets.  A larger Board did no good. 

Three pawns and puppets will remain on the permanent Board: Craig Cabaniss, John Loftness and Mickey Connolly.  Six will be added: Al Pino, Ian McConnell, Ken Mellinger, Paul Buckley, Phil Sasser and Ron Boomsma.  That means the permanent Board will have two less members than the interim Board. 

You can have 4, then 3, then 11, then 9 Board Members.  It is not the size that matters the most.  It is the men who matter the most.  None of these men will carry out “sweeping polity changes.”  Like a newly elected President, they’ve been rewarded with Cabinet positions and Ambassadorships in order to carry out the wishes of their Commander in Chief.  C.J. chose from his favorites’ list.

We understand that some pastors are advocating more sweeping polity changes, but to lead in such a process is beyond the interim board’s mandate.  We agree with pastors who desire clarity on our polity, but we don’t agree that we will arrive at that clarity without a new board in place that has been explicitly affirmed by our pastors to take responsibility for that process.  The board of the next few years will carry an enormous responsibility for our movement and it seems wise that they be installed for that task intentionally, not just as an accidental byproduct of what happened in July.

Some pastors are advocating more sweeping polity changes?  By “some” do you imply 10-12?  Or do you mean approximately 70 pastors from 20 churches and the list is growing! 

The interim Board can do whatever they want.  They are not under some kind of “mandate” that stops them from making significant polity changes now.  The mandate is self-imposed.  They are accountable to no one.  They can easily hold on nominating and selecting a new Board.

Herein is the problem.  They don’t want to change how Board Members, Officers and the Leadership Team are selected.  They want to keep all the power to themselves.  They don’t want to share it with the SGM pastors.  This is a clever way of shutting the pastors out of the process while making much to do about nothing in regards to accountability.

In retaining their power, they retain their monopoly.  They can pick a puppet Board of C.J. loyalists.  For example, Ken Mellinger.  He told friends he didn’t need to read any of my documents because his was wholeheartedly committed to C.J.

This affirmation process in no way assures a “new board [will be] in place that has been explicitly affirmed by our pastors.”  This is super hype!  The nominees become Board Members by default.

Why the rush?  We understand this process felt rushed to some.  We could have communicated better about this board, and we apologize for not doing so.  The interim board turned its attention to focusing on seating a new board after we completed the priority assignment of evaluating the charges against C.J.  

Out of nowhere the interim Board nominated 9 Board Members without discussing the process with the SGM pastors and allowed ten days for individual pastors to fill out a form in order to register any concerns for a particular nominee.  Don’t you love the condescension in this paragraph?  It “felt rushed to some” meaning it was not rushed, it just felt that way.  And instead of “could have communicated better – we apologize;” how about “we didn’t communicated at all which is our long standing habit – forgive us.” 

And can’t the eleven greatest leaders in SGM multitask?  Did it really take 8 months of concentrated focus to come up with the three panel approach that only evaluated” 5% of the charges against C.J. and read their reports?  Truth be told, the charges against C.J. have never been heard or evaluated.    

After determining a process for establishing a new board, we were left with a small window of time before the release of the AoR report.  It was important to get a new board in place in order to respond promptly to that report—we know you men are eager to get to work on the changes that lie ahead of us and we didn’t want to delay that process unnecessarily.  Regardless of what board is in place when we receive it, decisions concerning the AoR report will fall to the new board.  The need to have a board in place to respond to the report placed some limits on the response time afforded our elders to register their affirmations or concerns for the proposed board members.  However, since the only changes to the board configuration involved those that increase SGM elder-involvement and accountability, we felt the board could be formed within the necessary time-frame.  We could have explained this much better at the outset of this process, and apologize for the confusion created by our failure to do so.

It was NOT important to get a new board in place in order to respond promptly to the AoR report.  It is EXTREMELY important to get the right Board in place in order to reform the movement.  C.J., take a vote of all SGM pastors.  Ask which is more important.  A new Board now?  Or the right Board later?  Imposing a Board now?  Or talking and meeting with all the SGM pastors about how Board Members are nominated and appointed?  Would you please stop and listen!  What matters is who chooses the Board.  All the other stuff is cotton candy.

And how about “we should have explained” instead of “we could have explained.”

How were the nominees chosen?  We are grateful for the many encouragements passed on about the men nominated to the new board.  Some had questions about how this slate came about that we thought it would be helpful to address.  We listed the most important criteria in the letter we sent, and we believe each man solidly meets these standards.  

I love the way this paragraph starts off.  C.J. wants you to know they have received “many encouragements,” “some questions,” and no concerns (by omission) about the nominees and process.  Could we hire a Big Four accounting firm to check his statistics?

Take note SGM pastors, any dissent regarding nominees will be like swimming up Niagara Falls.  The Board has already determined that “each man solidly meets these standards.”  The Affirmation Process allows for affirmation – that’s about it.  You have a better chance of winning the Megabucks Super Duper Lottery then your concerns for any nominee making a difference. 

We also sought a theological diversity—within the bounds of our doctrinal unity, the men represent a range of views on issues such as polity, pneumatology, and mission.  We sought men who would bring a depth of pastoral experience, combining the strength of long pastoral experience with some younger men who brought fresh perspectives.  We also wanted a diversity of experience: senior pastors, church planters, urban and suburban pastors, etc.  Finally, we sought men committed to and experienced in our mission.  SGM is fundamentally given to gospel expansion through church planting and care.  So we sought to establish a new board comprising men with vision, wisdom, and experience in gospel mission as well.

Of course, NONE of the 70 men who signed the “stop and listen” letter have “theological diversity,” “depth of pastoral experience,” diversity of experience” or “commitment to and experienced in our mission.”  Not men like Grant Layman or Kenneth Maresco.  Or guys like Daren Lander, Mark Lauterback and Mark Altrogge.  Or international voices (of which there are none) like Pat Sczebel or Christian Wegert.  I guess all these guys are losers.  Spiritual duds.    

This explanation by the Board is a travesty.  The six additional Board Members are handpicked proponents of C.J.’s agenda.  Together they represent the narrowest “range of views” possible.  The interim Board is not interested in genuine diversity.

There are a number of questions outstanding that will need to be addressed as soon as practically possible.  For this reason, we have wanted to get a new board in place that can do all that is necessary to serve SGM in working through these issues.  Although we are not able to constrain the new board, we will be recommending—and it is the intention of present board members who are nominated for the new board—that they find ways to gather the thoughts and considerations of the pastors of SGM in ways that effectively allow for dialogue and interaction over these vital subjects.  We feel the new slate of nominees has the desire, gifts, and abilities to serve all of us as we move forward together.

So John Loftness, Mickey Connolly and Craig Cabaniss will help the other Board Members “find ways to gather the thoughts and considerations of the pastors of SGM in ways that effectively allow for dialogue and interaction over these vital subjects.”  Really?  Just like in the past and present, right?  Come on.  You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?  But you can expect, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” (Prov 26:11) 

Thank you again for your patience, feedback, and support.  We are eager to move ahead together in the mission of the gospel.

The last sentence should read.  “We are eager to move ahead together if you do what we tell you, or move ahead without you if you keep challenging us, in the mission of the gospel.

The SGM Board

##

Next up, a few comments on the “stop and listen” letter originally sent and endorsed by 62 pastors representing 13 churches to the Board of Directors.  The Board’s letter of response above avoids and denies their every request. 

March 7, 2012

Dear Interim Board members, 

Attached is the response of the Sovereign Grace Church (SGC) Fairfax Pastoral Team to your February 27th request for our affirmations or expressions of concern about the nine nominees to the Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) Board.  Thank you for the enormous sacrifices each of you has made over the past months to serve our family of churches.  Though we need to express our disagreement with some of what is being proposed, we want to assure you that we do so as friends who deeply desire to lean in and work together with you.  We are eager to preserve the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace, and to continue our mission together.

I believe they want to “work together…and continue our mission together” but the obstinate response of the SGM Board has made that next to impossible. 

As you read our response, please hear the spirit that undergirds all that we say, including the tremendous appreciation we have for our long history together.  On page three of the response you will also see the names of a number of SGM churches and pastors who share our concerns and have let us know that they would like to be included in our response.  Collectively, we represent 13 churches, including three of the founding churches of SGM.  Each one of us shares our goal of providing a reasoned, Biblically sound appeal to you, the Interim Board members, which reflects the love we share for our family of churches and our hope for reform in the movement.

If this many pastors and churches are “providing a reasoned, Biblically sound appeal…which reflects the love we share…and our hope for reform;” certainly a Board with any humility would hit the pause button.  Instead it’s pedal to the metal.    

We want you to know that we have no plans to leave SGM and strongly desire constructive dialogue with you.  I welcome a chance to speak to you in person and can be reached at 703.691.0600 (office).

These men hope to stay with SGM but not without substantive reform.  In their letter, C.J. and the Board expressed no interest of any kind in “constructive dialogue” before proceeding.  Here’s the message from the SGM Board to the 62 pastors: “Request denied!”  Talk to our puppet picked Board later when everything is set in cement.

Mark, on behalf of the SGC Fairfax Pastoral Team 

##

March 7, 2012

Dear members of the SGM Interim Board,

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6 ESV)

We write to you on behalf of the Pastoral Team of Sovereign Grace Church (SGC) Fairfax in response to “An Update from the Board,” that we received on February 27, 2012.  These have been very troubling times for our family of churches, and we thank God for you, as you have labored many hours serving as Interim Board members.  We continue to pray that the Lord himself will preserve your souls in peace and that as fellow brothers in Christ, we all will remain focused on glorifying God our Savior.

These have been “very troubling times.”  Particularly as it pertains to the actions of C.J., Dave and the interim Board.

When we received your update, the SGC Fairfax Pastoral Team discussed the changes in the leadership structure, the functions of the permanent Board, and the nomination and affirmation processes. We also reviewed the list of nominees for Board membership.  In the light of our discussions, we are declining to participate in the process of affirming these nominees because we believe the process is premature and unwise.

These men discussed all the serious issues.  The SGM Board addresses all the superficial issues.  Based upon their discussions they declined to participate in the affirmation process for nominees.  They are trying to get the Board’s attention.  So are 12 other churches.  But like the original 13 colonies in early America, King George III of England won’t listen!  One person said this letter from the 13 churches is the nicest declaration of war he has ever read. 

Our Concerns

The process is unnecessarily rushed.

You asked that the online feedback form with affirmations and concerns be submitted by March 7, just 10 days after we received the update.  You do not explain your rationale for the urgent timeline.  We suggest that it would be better to wait until after Ambassadors of Reconciliation releases its report of findings.  We understand that this report will include key weaknesses and strengths in SGM’s cultural norms, polity, and structure, all of which could inform the way we move forward in seating a Board.  

These are still valid points.  Ten days is not long enough to examine, research, and discuss the candidates as an eldership.

More importantly, I hope AoR recommends a decentralization of power so all the SGM pastors play a vital role in determining leadership structures, functions, nominees, and Board Members.  There is no question the selection of a permanent Board should have waited knowing such a report could have a bearing on how to proceed in selecting a permanent Board.  This shows a prideful disregard for any wisdom contained in the AoR report and no consideration of the pastors’ perspective.   

Ongoing lack of or contradictory communications

We see an established pattern of a lack of communications, including the absence of regional meetings, over the last several years.  The most recent example is that we received your February 27th update without any meaningful conversation about the process involved or the contents of the update.  Within the update itself, there is very little explanation about how and why the new Board nominees were selected.

This “established pattern of a lack of communication” is due to an entrenched root of pride.  C.J. is not interested in conversation with lowly pastors who strongly disagree with him and he reacts to correction from inferiors.  He is not going to allow for dissent.  That is what infuriated him with Joshua Harris and the pastors at CLC.

In addition, we have received contradictory communications that make it difficult to know what to believe about the actions being taken by the Interim Board.  For example, you had explained in “Sovereign Grace Board’s Response to the [Panel] Reports that your “mandate as an interim Board was to evaluate Brent’s allegations,” leaving a “thorough examination of SGM’s leadership structure … to the next Board.”  With your latest update, however, it is clear that you have made determinations about polity outside of your self-described scope.

Lack of diversity among the nominees

There is no doubt that the nominees are upright and godly men.  However, the lack of diversity of opinions is of great concern.  Such diversity would come by including broader perspectives on polity from all of our churches, as well as representation from the international churches, and would greatly enhance the pursuit of much-needed reforms in our family of churches.

I disagree that all the nominees are “upright and godly men.”  Some are crooked, not upright.  I fully agree on the lack of diversity.  It is a GREAT concern.  C.J. is not going to allow for “diversity” on big ticket items.  There are litmus tests for all his nominees.  That includes devotion to him and his way of governing the denomination.  The international churches have no representation.  The much needed reforms will never come because no meaningful diversity will be tolerated.  The kind of diversity required will be seen as a threat and viewed with hostility.   

Ongoing polity problems

SGM’s new Board, like the previous and Interim Board, will have great authority without strengthened accountability.  In effect, the Board remains self-appointed and self-perpetuating because we have no commitment that you will act on the concerns that SGM pastors express.

All true.  Nothing has changed.  The Board has absolute authority.  They appoint themselves.  They define themselves.  They compensate themselves. They listen to themselves.  They commend themselves.  Accountability has not been strengthened.  They can do whatever they want, whenever they want, without opposition.  There is no commitment to act upon the concerns of pastors.  Their response to this letter shows their total disregard for all concerns raised. 

In addition, there is a lack of sufficient clarity about SGM as an entity.  There needs to be a theological document that lays out the Biblical explanation of SGM that is published, peer-reviewed by those outside our movement, and discussed as a whole by all SGM pastors.   

Actually there is a lot of clarity about SGM as an entity in the Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and Membership Agreement.  That is where the battle must take place.  These documents must be changed in order to reform the movement.

A theological document is a good idea and it should be discussed as a whole by all SGM pastors.  It can be amended by the Board and resubmitted to the pastors.  Those pastors who find the final draft unacceptable can freely leave without shame or fear.  They may reorganize with other like-minded pastors who leave SGM.

There is a theological document that has been produced by Daniel Baker (Phil Sasser’s son-in-law) but it is badly flawed when it comes to putting forth a denominational model for SGM based on Acts 15.  I wrote Joshua and Mark about it this week.  For your information, Joshua and Mark never write me back.  No one wants a paper trail leading to Brent.  That would end his career.

Proposed Way Forward

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. (Proverbs 21:5 ESV)

Our dear brothers, we appeal to you to slow down.  Please stop and listen to the churches you are connected to and emerge from; create forums for pastors to speak together and with you; and call a council of pastors from each church together to discuss our future and make decisions together.

The response of the Board is clear.  They are not slowing down.  They are not going to stop and listen.  They show no interest in creating forums for pastors to interact.  And especially, they acknowledge no need for a council to discuss the future and make decisions together.  C.J. will never share decision making with the SGM pastors.

We make these appeals as one of the founding churches in our family of churches and as fellow followers of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who can redeem all circumstances and make right all relationships.  Also attached is a list of churches and their Pastoral Teams who agree with our concerns and proposed way forward.

Please receive this letter as an expression of the desire we all share for the reform of our family of churches.  For over three decades, we all have been walking together for the sake and advancement of the gospel.  We hope to continue doing so fruitfully for decades to come.

The droplet on the Sovereign Grace logo represents the Board’s response; only the water drop has turned into a powerful bombshell.  It has produce tsunami like repercussions that will hit the movement.  The divide has widen because the invisible C.J. is back as President.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you,

Approximately 70 pastors and 20 churches last count.

 

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