On March 17, 2010, I sent C.J. my first document, Response Regarding Friendship and Doctrine, appealing for repentance and confession. Since that appeal over two years ago, C.J. has yet to ask forgiveness of the SGM pastors and churches for any wrong doing.
Mostly recently, Ambassadors of Reconciliation published their report about Sovereign Grace Ministries on April 10, 2012. In response, all C.J. could say was, “I want to sincerely apologize for the ways in which deficiencies in my leadership have contributed to the failures catalogued in this report.” C.J. cites morally neutral deficiencies in his leadership for failures but no morally sinful deficiencies in his character for sins.
The same is true of the old SGM Board (Nov 2007-Jun 2011), the interim Board (Jul 2011–Feb 2012), and the new Board (Mar 2012-present). Joshua Harris being the only exception. None of these Boards have express any wrong doing to me, the SGM pastors, or the SGM churches. These are facts not exaggerations.
In contrast, I am grateful for the example set by the pastors of Covenant Life Church. On Thursday night they confessed significant sins in a specific and sincere manner. I look forward to the day when C.J. and the leaders around him do the same.
Here is a transcript from the CLC Members’ Meeting.
Covenant Life Church Members’ Meeting (June 28, 2012)
Thank you for coming. We have a lot of ground to cover tonight. I realize that you’ll need time to think about and process what we’re sharing and in some cases will want to follow-up with further discussion. To facilitate that we’ve schedule two “Coffee & Questions” meetings—one on July 15 and one on Aug 12 at 7pm. These are smaller contexts that allow for discussion and two-way dialogue. There’s a sign-up on our Members Blog. Hope to see many of you there. And of course we would love to talk to you personally so please contact a pastor.
Two Small Things...
1. The Covenant Life App
Before we get into anything serious, I have a very exciting announcement. Covenant Life we have arrived as a church: we have our own app. Forgive me for being so excited about this, I’m a bit of a technology geek. If you have an iPhone or iPad or an Android phone you can download from the iTunes app store and at Google Play. It gives you easy access to all our sermons—both audio and video—and lets you read our church blog. And if you hold it over your heart it sanctifies you at twice the rate of normal spiritual growth. But seriously, this really is a great tool that makes this content easily accessible. We’ve come a long way since the days of our tape ministry.
2. Membership List
Tonight when you’re leaving we’ll have a Membership Update list. This is a list of all the people who have joined and all the members who have departed since last May when we last handed out an update. Now I realize because of all the issues we’ve walked through in the past year there will be greater interest in this list. Let me say a few things: First, please don’t assume you know why someone has withdrawn their membership. Some are leaving over disagreements. The majority are leaving because of job changes or God just leading them to another church. If you know someone on this list but don’t know why they’re no longer here, don’t talk about them, talk to them. Love all of these dear brothers and sisters. Continue to reach out to them in friendship and care. Finally, let’s rejoice in all the new men and women God has brought to our church. Each of these new members is an expression of God’s grace to us!
Plan for the Evening
Alright, let’s dive into our main topics for tonight. You could divide the content of tonight’s meeting into two main categories: we want to take time to look back and we want to look forward to our future together as a church.
We’re looking back as we reflect on the events of the past year and as we consider the Report by Ambassadors of Reconciliation.
We’re looking forward by presenting the draft of our new church constitution and sharing our proposed church budget for the coming year including plans for distributing funds given to our Go Forward Fund.
I think it’s important that we take a look back, not because we want to live in the past but because we believe we need to rightly process our past to be able to move forward in a healthy way. Last July I told you that to the best of my ability my role was to help you to interpret from God’s Word what was taking place. I said then and I still believe that the turmoil we’ve been through has been an expression of God’s loving, fatherly discipline of our church. Hebrews tells us that God, like a father disciplines those he loves. Hebrews 12:10-says, “he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
It’s been almost one year since our church faced an extraordinary crisis. I won’t try and recount all the details of those events for you. But let me try and summarize as objectively and simply as possible what has taken place:
- First, last July previously undisclosed behavior and personal conflict among leaders in our movement was exposed in a way that shook people’s confidence in their leaders.
- What made all this more complicated and painful for our church is that we didn’t all agree about how to deal with it. There was a difference of interpretation of our past and a difference of viewpoint on how to best respond. And this created a strained the relationship between the pastors of our church and some of the leadership of Sovereign Grace.
- This also created tension between some members of our church who saw things differently. Dear friends have left our church because they thought our church defended individuals too much. Others have left because they felt we didn’t do enough to defend them.
- If all this wasn’t complex enough, our church movement has also begun an important process of defining how authority, accountability and church connectivity should work. Many churches along with ours have sought to speak into this discussion and express their perspective on what reform should look like. But in certain ways these differences of viewpoint have further increased the tension.
Summation: So the bottom line is that in the past year, regardless of your opinion on these matters, for some, confidence in leadership has been shaken. Disagreement has strained relationships. And our church and our movement have embarked on a significant reevaluation of how authority, accountability and church-partnership should work.
I know that all this has affected each of you differently. Some, because of your history here and relational connections, have been touched in significant ways. What I think we all need to acknowledge is that this has been difficult for all of us. It’s been a real trial for everyone involved and it’s okay to be saddened. This past year has been a reminder for all of us that we live in a world marred by sin, that we’re all still in process, and that we all need to become more like Christ.
Relationship with CJ
Some of you have asked about my relationship with CJ. The best answer I can give—which I assume is obvious to everyone—is that it is strained. We are brothers in Christ, but we have a significant difference of opinion about how these events should have been handled. I don’t have any personal offense with CJ and he has communicated several times he has no offense with me. He has asked my forgiveness for past sins and I’ve forgiven him. I’ve asked his forgiveness for past sins and he has forgiven me. I’ve listened to his concerns for me and I’ve sought to share my concerns for him. To the best of my ability I have sought to live at peace with my brother. But we still see issues and events very differently. At times our opinions about what faithful leadership looks like have been at odds. So while there is mutual brotherly love, there is also mutual disappointment.
Some of you have told me that you think we should have publicly disciplined CJ or should speak against him serving as a pastor. I disagree with that. I do not believe CJ is disqualified from ministry. And so I wish him success in his new church plant and pray that he will prosper.
There are others of you who would like me to give a more ringing endorsement of C.J.’s leadership and his response to this crisis. But I am not able to do that either. I am disappointed by aspects of the way he’s related to our pastoral team and to our church through this process. I share this simply to explain why it’s difficult for me to celebrate the nature and timing of the departure or to act as if everything is fine.
So I find myself in what I think is a balanced position—not agreeing with C.J.’s strongest critics nor his most vocal supporters. But before God I have sought to be a faithful friend to CJ and to fear God and not man.
I want you to know I pray for him, I sincerely care about him and want him to prosper as he continues to preach the gospel. I will always give thanks to God for his investment in my life and seek to honor him for that. I have entrusted my relationship with C.J. to the Lord and trust in God’s timing the tension we currently experience will ease.
Our Relationship with SGM
The obvious question this leads to is how all this affects our partnership with Sovereign Grace Ministries. The answer is that we’re right in the middle of figuring that out.
Here’s where we are now:
First, we are a Sovereign Grace member church, but because of the nature of our concerns and the unanswered questions about Sovereign Grace we’ve suspended our monthly investment in the ministry at this time. We value our connections to fellow churches and in the meantime we are giving to targeted projects, most notably the North Africa mission.
Second, we’re going to have a face-to-face meeting with the new board of Sovereign Grace on July 6th. We’ve had multiple conversations with members of the board individually and this will be chance to all come together and listen to one another and seek to better understand each other.
This is not a mediation nor an adjudication. It is a context to communicate and we trust further clarity will come from our discussion.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, Sovereign Grace is in the process of considering and clarifying its polity. This involves deciding whether there is apostolic authority outside of the local church, how leadership should be structured and accountable and how churches partner with each other in Sovereign Grace. These are very significant issues. Sovereign Grace has established a polity committee and a process for churches to share their perspectives. Members of this committee and members of the new board have reached out to our church and graciously welcomed our participation. We are thankful for this. We are participating in this process and will be sharing a paper in Louisville on July 10. We’ve been told that a new membership agreement and a defined government structure will hopefully be shared in November or December.
As we process this decision, here is our commitment to you:
First, we will seek to walk through this with these men in a peaceable, respectful and God-glorifying way. That’s why our July 6 meeting is so important to us. We value meeting with these men face-to-face and seeking to understand each other. Whether or not we agree on every matter or maintain organizational ties, we want to model gospel-love and Christ-like humility in our interaction. We want to show the world we are disciples of Jesus by the way we love one another.
Second, we will not just “hand down” a decision as pastors about our association with Sovereign Grace. When the time comes that we feel as a pastoral team that we have clarity, when we’ve processed the new membership agreement, we will present our consensus to the congregation, explain our reasons and ask for your feedback and questions and counsel before finalizing a decision.
Covenant Life, God is just as interested in how we honor him in the process and how we trust him on the journey as he is delivering us to a certain outcome. This year has been a year of testing and difficulty as a church family. But God doesn’t waste difficulty. He’s using all this to produce hope in us!
Romans 5:3-4 tells us that we can “rejoice in our suffering because suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope—and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
I realize that on the one-year anniversary of these events we’d all like closure. The problem is that we don’t all agree on what closure means. For some closure means leaders agreeing and everybody living in the same town. For others closure is tied to a certain outcome that you want—staying in Sovereign Grace or leaving. I guess we’d all like closure in the form of everybody else seeing it our way.
What I think we need to recognize is that “closure” might be the wrong pursuit. I think the most important and most healthy thing for all of us is to ask God to accomplish his purpose in us—as individuals and as a church. To fill us with his Holy Spirit and produce greater endurance, character and hope. To ask him to transform us, grow us and mature us as disciples. I think we all need to keep asking, “God what do you have for me in this? What do you want to teach me about love? About grace? About disagreeing with fellow-Christians with meekness and compassion?”
I don’t just want to get through this trial. I want the Lord to accomplish his purpose for us in it. I don’t want to waste it. I don’t want to miss what God has for us.
And I want you to know in spite of our difficulties I see God producing endurance and character and hope in this congregation. I see members who have turned away from fear of pastors and who are respectfully sharing their ideas, questions and concerns. I see people praying and hoping in God more than ever. I see men and women repenting of ungodly speech and learning to communicate disagreement with grace. And I’ve watched the men of our pastoral team learn to rely on and hope in God like never before. I’ve seen the Lord produce a greater affection and appreciation between pastors and members than ever before.
Yes, the past year has been painful and unpleasant. I would not wish the past year on any church. But I would not trade what God has taught us and how God has humbled us and refined us for anything in the world.
God is producing the peaceful fruit of righteousness in us. God has used this trial to change things in our church that have needed to change. He has used it for our good.
And so I want to call all of us to lay aside blame, to stop finger-pointing and to mark this anniversary with a renewed commitment to seek the Lord, to walk in the fear of God, and to treasure God’s forgiveness even as we extend it to others.
Response to Ambassadors of Reconciliation
I want to shift gears now and take time to share our reflections on the report prepared by Ambassadors of Reconciliation for SGM. AoR’s evaluation of SGM has important implications for Covenant Life Church.
What We Appreciate
We are grateful for all the hard work that AoR invested in evaluating SGM and the hard work in preparation of their report. Ted Kober and Ed Keinath are men of integrity who have endeavored to serve SGM with their gifts and expertise.
We also want to thank and commend the Sovereign Grace board’s willingness to publish the AoR report which chronicles many historic weaknesses and mistakes. This is a wonderful expression of grace. We thank them for their commitment to openness with the report.
We agree with and affirm the 12 recommendations that AoR made in the report: the encouragements to believe the gospel, to develop a culture of proclaiming God’s forgiveness, to begin a reconciliation ministry, to work on broken relationships (using impartial people to help), to stop sinful communication and stop speculating on motives, to stop blaming people or groups but take the speck out of our own eye, to develop better policies and systems, to provide training for dealing with sexual misconduct, to keep training pastors, to look for ways to reinforce the proper use of authority at every level, to avoid the use of e-mail for sensitive and confidential communications. We agree with these first 11 recommendations.
But it is recommendation number 12 that strikes the deepest chord with this pastoral team, and for that reason, I want to read it in its entirety:
“We encourage all the leaders and members throughout Sovereign Grace Ministries to care for one another in Christian love, including reaching out to those who are no longer in your churches. Seek opportunities to affirm, encourage and seek out those who are hurting including members and former members. Call those you have not seen for a while and let them know that you miss them and care about them. Pray for one another in each other’s presence. Share God’s gift of forgiveness with one another. Gently hold one another accountable in love, always remembering your own forgiveness in Christ. Love one another, especially those with whom you are not reconciled, so that what Jesus said will be true of all of you; “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34,35 NIV) You have done this so well in many ways, but there are some in your midst and some former members who have felt neglected from your love and care.”
Amen! Let’s heed this exhortation.
We also believe that AoR accurately highlighted many of the blessings we have shared in Sovereign Grace through the years. We have been blessed by Sovereign Grace’s theologically rich worship music. We have grown through the many books that Sovereign Grace has published, and we have gleaned much from Sovereign Grace’s conferences and the audio and video resources. Most significantly we’ve benefitted from our friendship with fellow pastors and congregations.
We have participated in a rich 30-year-history filled with church planting around the world. We are grateful for the blessings of SGM and our history with them.
We also, agree with AoR’s concerns about our movement’s lack of clear polity structures. After reviewing SGM’s governing documents, AoR reported that SGM’s “fast growth has outpaced its development of more formal structures that become necessary in larger organizations.” AoR observed that we failed to develop godly processes and policies for dealing with charges, conflicts and grievances involving members and leaders. We agree with AoR’s assessments and its recommendations for change and we are seeking to implement these same principles into our new church constitution.
We also agree with AoR’s observation that our leadership in Sovereign Grace lacks outside input and accountability. AoR noted that SGM has made itself vulnerable to criticism by failing to provide processes to receive input from its member-churches regarding its governance, accountability, leadership qualifications and other leadership responsibilities.
We also agree with AoR’s rebuke of sinful speech. Through the past year we’ve seen people on all sides of the issues tempted to judge, gossip, speak harshly and lack grace in their speech. AoR’s strong challenge to honor God in our words and to avoid judgment is something we all need to take to heart. Let’s continue to examine ourselves and seek to grow. I’ve been made aware of different individuals who have repented and sought the forgiveness of others for their sinful speech—be it in conversations or written in online communication. Let’s continue to ask God to help us learn to ask questions, raise concerns and even strongly disagree without impugning motives or judging others.
Areas for Improvement in the Report
There were some aspects of AoR’s report that we had questions about and at times felt could have been more helpful. We were able to share these thoughts with AoR on the phone and it was a very helpful conversation.
First, we shared the concern that at times it seemed that in the report there was a stronger rebuke of sinful speech than there was the sinful leadership. In other words there seemed to be more censures and corrections for those bringing criticism of our movement’s leadership than rebuke of our leadership practices that contributed to the hurt and difficulties faced by these people.
AoR told us that part of this reason is they spoke so strongly to the issues of speech was because many of the people—members and former members—that they met with were unresponsive when they challenged them about sinful angry speech. Because of this they felt the need to more strongly speak to the issue. At the same time they said that many of the leaders they spoke with were responsive and admitted their mistakes.
We pointed out that many members had not yet heard these kind of humble acknowledgments of sin by leaders and would no doubt be greatly softened when they did hear it themselves.
What we hope our whole movement will remember is that there are many people and voices calling for reform and sharing constructive criticism who are not bitter or angry or sinning in their speech. We believe part of growing as a movement is being able to listen to these voices and not write them off as slanderous.
Second, we shared the concern that morally neutral categories were used in assessing the removal of former Sovereign Grace leaders. AoR described situations in which leaders they felt that they were inappropriately removed or pressured to step down from their positions, often using “secret” investigations to gather “information that might lead to their removal.”
AoR also reported that other former leaders were disqualified or pressured to step down because the actions of their minor children were judged sinful, although the specific kinds of behavior in their children that disqualified a man were arbitrary and inconsistently applied. AoR concluded that these situations were handled “inconsistently” because of a lack of written guidelines or policies.
While this is true, we think it’s incomplete. We believe that as a movement we should acknowledge that our leadership in the removal of some men from ministry was more than a deficient policy—it involved a sinful exercise and misuse of spiritual authority.
Please understand, we’re also looking in the mirror. We don’t want to miss this God-given opportunity to evaluate our own practices.
What we think we all need to acknowledge is that when an organization utilizes its authority and governance to remove men based on non-biblical or arbitrary categories, this is sin. And wherever this has occurred, we believe our movement will be best served by calling it sinful, connecting it to leadership and repenting, believing the gospel and changing by grace.
Finally, we interacted with AoR about the issue of Members Meetings that was raised in the report.
AoR cited “Family Meetings” as one of the significant factors that contributed to the overall intensity of the conflict. AoR reported that “Family Meetings” in churches fostered sinful speech because leadership failed to direct members in godly speech and warn against sinful judgments. As you know we’ve acknowledged our own sins and mistakes from our members meetings last summer. We’ve sought to be clear with you about where we failed and we’ve asked your forgiveness. But we also believe that there were many helpful and important aspects to those meetings and we couldn’t agree with what appeared to be a blanket dismissal of them. We talked to AOR about this and they shared some helpful information:
First, because AoR discourages all open forums in church-wide conflicts, the information about “Family Meetings” is included whenever they give a report. AoR also made clear that Covenant Life was not being singled out. They had other Sovereign Grace church “Family Meetings” in mind, as well. AoR acknowledged that these meetings are not all bad. That good can come out of them.
It also helped us to learn that AoR had only listened to our first Member’s Meetings in its entirety. They informed us they only skimmed the transcripts of the other meetings. They also were given and read a document criticizing the meetings which selectively quoted from them and presented a different viewpoint than what we would hold.
So we were grateful that AoR acknowledged that their information about our Member’s Meeting was not as complete as it could have been. AoR communicated that it was an oversight for them not to talk with our pastoral team more and learn why we had our meetings, how the meetings served our church and how we had already acknowledged our mistakes as leaders.
[Invite pastors on stage]
What We Can Own and Repent of as Pastors
But now let’s turn to the most important category of this report: where it’s helped us to see where we need to repent as a pastoral team. We’ve asked the Lord to help us view the AoR report as a God-given opportunity to continue a process of repentance and reform in our church and our leadership culture.
So while in one sense this is a response to the AoR report, in another important sense, it’s not. This is a response to the kind and gracious work of God. We don’t want to miss the opportunity God is giving us to humble ourselves and repent of our sins.
And we use the word “sin” very purposefully here. It’s easy for us to want to couch these issues as merely deficiencies or mistakes. But God has used the events of the past year to help us see that where we’ve failed to rightly teach and practice his word and where we’ve been proud we have sinned. And we can admit that because we have a sin-bearing Savior who died on the cross for our sins. Jesus didn’t die for leadership deficiencies but there is grace for sins because Jesus shed his blood for us.
The categories we want to share here are ones that we believe that we’ve all contributed to and participated in to some extent through our leadership, if not in overt actions in attitude of heart. As the leaders of this church, we take responsibility for shaping the culture and environment of our church. We’re going to have several different men come and share on behalf of the team. And after that we’ve asked some members to read scriptures in response about God’s grace. Ted Kober from AoR encouraged us to do this...to declare God’s forgiveness. This isn’t to minimize our sin but to remind us all of the grace of God.
1. Kenneth Maresco - An Arrogant View of Our Church
Several of the categories we want to acknowledge relate to pride. The first is pride in our church. AoR observed is that we valued humility, which was a good thing, but that we could also be proud of our humility. AoR wrote, “some were proud of their accomplishment in humility. They talked about it in such a way as to distinguish themselves from people outside their fellowship...” (p. 14).
We are grateful for all that God has done in our church these past 35 years. And there is a godly way to be grateful for all that the Lord has done and continues to do in and through Covenant Life. But, at times, we have also stepped over the line to think too highly of ourselves as a church. There have been public and private communications that have put us in a good light compared to other leaders, churches or denominations. We’ve been proud of the rightness of our doctrine, the goodness of our practice or the uniqueness of being Reformed-Charismatics. In pride, we have thought and acted as though we were better than others. The past year has been particularly helpful in curing us of this view.
I’d like to speak personally to this issue. I have spoken to numerous men in their 50’s who have been here a long time who have told me that the events of the past year have had a draining effect on their spiritual lives. I am in my 50’s and in the past year, I have faced the same temptations. I moved here to work for People of Destiny International, I was hired by John Loftness and Larry Tomczak, I came on staff at the invitation of C.J. Mahaney and I worked for Sovereign Grace for many years. I have been on staff of this church since 1991. The disappointments of the past year have been very deep and very painful.
As I have sought to sort through, issues of grief, disappointment, self-pity, and guilt, I have recognized that one category in my soul where I have experienced personal conviction relates to this issue of pride. And this has helped me with some of my disillusionment because genuine repentance brings hope.
Part of the pain of this year is that some of my old idols are being displaced. God has helped me see that I sinned in my thinking about our church and our movement of churches. I proudly thought we were the best.
And as that idol has been removed I have been confused and disillusioned, and forced to worship God alone. That has painful but it has been good. Whatever is not for the glory of Jesus Christ must be shaken, it must be removed.
I have repented before God and confessed my sins to him. He is faithful and just to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. But I want to confess to you, because as a leader I know that my pride affected you in different ways. I want to ask you to forgive me for my contribution to this error and for whatever ways I/we as leaders contributed to this sin in your life. I am sincerely sorry. I/we have repented are committed to leading in the days ahead seeking to remove this leaven of pride from our leadership and church culture.
2. Joshua Harris - Handling Disagreements
Another expression of our pride as pastors is in the area of disagreements. AoR stated, “so long as you didn’t question leadership, you would not likely experience difficulties in SGM. But if you disagreed with leadership, especially publically, you would be targeted for disciplinary action...this contributed to a sense of fear and distrust of leadership within SGM or its churches” (p. 20).
God’s spirit has convicted us here. At times, we as pastors were proud by not listening or receiving correction when members brought observations or concerns. Instead, those who did raise questions or disagreed with pastors could feel ignored, marginalized or discounted. At times when someone came with a criticism, if that criticism was not brought “well” with a good attitude, the critique could be missed and the attitude of the person become the focus.
We want to confess that this was part of our culture, it was practiced in our church, and we take responsibility for this and want to flatly say this is neither biblical nor right.
As pastors, we want to ask you to forgive us for our role in perpetuating, teaching or affirming this sinful response to others bringing criticisms. It is not sin to disagree. And we thank many of you for your faithful thoughts over the past year. We hope we have demonstrated a growing willingness to hear from people who disagree with us.
3. Corby Megorden - An Elevated View of Pastors
The third area of pride as pastors that the Lord has convicted us of is thinking too highly of our positions and our own wisdom. (This was not called out specifically in the AoR report, but it is an area where we have felt the Lord’s conviction.)
The role of pastors or elders is important and clearly given in Scripture. But at times, we’ve elevated this role in ways that expressed sinful pride. There has been a culture of honoring leaders that is biblical, but, at times, has been excessive. In some situations, ministry has been man-centered as it upheld the specific practices of a pastor to the neglect of equipping the saints with the Word of God to exercise discernment and make decisions as disciples of Jesus.
We also see that at times ministry, became bottlenecked through pastors instead of ministry being released for members to lead. This created an unnecessary division and distinction between pastors and members. And lastly, thinking too highly of our own position and wisdom was reflected in a church government that did not have member input and accountability. This is something we desire to change with the new constitution.
Repentance: Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that “love is patient and kind; love does not...boast; it is not arrogant...it does not insist on its own way.” We have sinned by not acting humbly, graciously, and lovingly toward you. We ask your forgiveness for these sins. While we will continue to lead as God calls us to, we commit to listening to your questions and concerns, to focusing on the Word and not our own opinions, to networking and learning from other churches and to creating a polity with appropriate checks and balances.
4. Grant Layman - Misapplication of the Doctrine of Sin
AoR highlighted the issue of the misapplication of the doctrine of sin in their report. They wrote, “many described...how small group leaders or pastors or SGM leaders worked to ‘drill down’...to the root causes of people’s sins.... Although seen as a blessing or strength by many, others saw an abusive side...when it had the effect of beating people down or unfairly scrutinizing them” (p. 15).
We have always sought to and will continue to hold to a biblical view of the doctrine of sin. We are not going to whitewash sin or water down the call to repentance and holy lives. As a church we want to remain faithful to teach what Scripture does – that sin is real, that God is holy, and that God’s grace is amazing when we understand all that we’ve been rescued and redeemed from.
All that being said, we are seeing ways in which we need to grow and change in how we apply the doctrine of sin in our care and counseling. In an attempt to faithfully teach an important and helpful doctrine, we failed at times to teach and model it in proper proportion and balance.
Some effects of this have been:
- People seeing themselves and others primarily as sinners, rather than seeing themselves as new creations in Christ and sons and daughter of God.
- Another effect is relationships becoming primarily about confession of sin, identifying sin and sinful behavior rather than building relationships of Christ-like love for one another.
- Another negative effect is more confidence in our ability to help someone to change rather a confidence in the Word of God working through the Spirit and prayer.
- And a final effect has been people being counseled against or being fearful of exploring medical or professional help with their struggles.
We want to grow in caring for people by addressing sin and by learning how to come alongside and minister to people who are hurting, suffering and struggling.
We want to grow in making our fellowship centered on God’s Word, pursuing the Spirit, and helping people to run to Jesus in the midst of their struggles and sin. We want to grow in trumpeting all the implications of the Gospel – through faith in Jesus Christ, our sins have been forgiven, we been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life, we have been given the Spirit to empower us and the power of the resurrection is transforming us day by day! And we want to grow in the appropriate and wise use of medical and mental health professionals in the care of struggling saints.
Response: Where our teaching and example have been imbalanced please forgive us. Where you have experienced feeling belittled or judged because of how the doctrine of sin has been practiced and applied, please forgive us. Believe us when we say there was no malicious intent—but we are deeply sorry for the way this immaturity in our handling of this truth has hurt you. We are committed to emphasizing grace and growing in love...even as we prize holiness.
Conclusion of AoR Response
Even as we’ve acknowledged our sins we want to ask you to come to any of the pastors directly if we’ve wronged in these ways or others. We would like to be able to hear from you personally and ask forgiveness for specific issues.
I’d like us to take time now to pray together...for our church, for your pastors...and in some cases God may lead you to pray your own prayers of confession. Let’s take time to pray in groups of 3-5 and then we’ll conclude this portion of the meeting with prayer from the front.
Looking to the Future
Now I want us to turn our attention to where God is taking us. Jesus is building his church, by God’s grace we are moving forward. And two important parts that forward progress are our new constitution and our annual budget. Kenneth...
Tonight I’m very excited to present the first draft of our new church constitution. This is an important moment for our congregation. We are not expecting you to read and affirm it tonight! But we are putting it into your hands so that we can embark on a several month process of discussing it and understanding it and sharpening it together.
So tonight the draft constitution will be available on our Members Blog and we’re also making paper copies available (one per household) as you leave.
Our church’s constitution defines our leadership structures, it clarifies our mission, and explains what it means to be a member. We hope and believe that this constitution will help us to remain faithful to biblical doctrine as well as help us to press forward in our life and mission together.
We have described our approach to church government as “Jesus ruled, elder led and congregationally accountable.” The goal of this new constitution is the health of our church— and its purpose is to help us preserve the unity and purity of the flock and to advance the mission of the gospel.
With that in mind, some of the ways we hope this new constitution will serve us from Scripture: (on screen)
1. A constitution will help us: (on screen)
- Do all things decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40)
- Protect the church from abuse and harm (1 Tim. 5:19-21)
- Maintain proper lines of authority, responsibility and accountability (Acts 6:1-6, 14:23; Eph. 4:11-14; Tit. 1:5; Heb. 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-5)
- Instill confidence in the public and members alike (1 Cor. 6:1-4)
- Ensure that proper procedures are followed (justice) and set the standard of practice for decades to come (stability)
2. Key issues a constitution addresses (on screen)
- Statement of Faith: it is essentially the same, but we have added a section on marriage and Scriptures to help each of you to understand the biblical basis for it.
- The nature of membership – its privileges and responsibilities
- Process for becoming a member and transferring membership
- Church discipline
- How “mission” is defined
- Church leadership – selection, qualification and congregational role in affirmation
- The role of deacons
- Members meetings
- Financial procedures and processes
- Process for amending the constitution
3. What will stay the same under our new constitution?
- Core theology
- Elder-led governance
- Practice of church discipline
4. What will change?
- Non-vocational elders
- A “Governing Board” comprised of vocational and non vocational-elders
- Congregational affirmation of all new pastor/elders added to the pastoral team
- Congregational affirmation of key financial decisions, including the annual budget
- The role of the Financial Advisory Committee
- A process for the transition of a senior pastor
- A clear process for amending the constitution, including the Statement of Faith
5. What will the process be for member input? (on screen)
- Give access to the draft online.
- Schedule several pastors’ coffees where members can ask questions or offer suggestions (July 15 & August 12th)
- Publish an online form as well as an e-mail address where members can send questions, comment, make suggestions or even propose amendments
- Respond to personal e-mails
- Review members’ input and frequently asked questions and provide answers at the pastors’ coffees and/or on the members’ blog.
We look forward to teaching about and talking through these things with you.
6. How will we adopt the constitution?
Now having members affirm key decisions is something new to us. You will see this in the constitution where we will have members voting. Earlier in the year, during the polity series, Josh mentioned 75% affirmation for decisions. But after dialoguing with other churches who have experience in these things, we have changed key decisions to 66% which is referred to as a super-majority. On other key decisions like the budget and the constitution, affirmation will require a simple majority.
So once we have had ample time for discussion and consideration of congregational feedback, including any proposed amendments to the draft document, the elders will agree upon a final version of the constitution to present to the congregation for adoption. We will publish this online and then schedule a members meeting. The following question will be put to the congregation at a members meeting scheduled a month in advance:
(Put on screen) Do you, the members of Covenant Life Church, in submission to the rule of Jesus Christ, the leadership of the Elders of this church, and in wise and prayerful consideration of the matter set before you, affirm the adoption of the proposed Constitution of Covenant Life Church?
We will allow the congregation to vote to affirm the proposal, and once we have tallied the votes, if approved our constitution will be ratified and recognized, under Scripture, as our formal governing document.
Covenant Life Church, we are very grateful for the privilege of glorifying God with you. It is our hope that this constitution process will be an means for helping us to walk together in greater unity, and that it will help us to strive more effectively in the mission of the gospel for years to come. We are looking forward to our dialogue with you in the coming months.
Budget/Mission (Corby and Grant)
What I hope you see in both the constitution and our plans for giving is that we are moving forward as a church. We are moving forward in reform of our church government. We are moving forward in clear, consistent communication to the congregation. And we’re moving forward in mission. I hope you’re encouraged as you see how your generosity is supporting churches and helping to spread the gospel around the world.
But ultimately our hope for our future as a church is not in our plans. It’s not in our leaders. It’s not in our members. It’s not in our constitution. It’s not in our repentance. It’s not in our giving. Our hope is in the God of steadfast love. Let’s go out tonight remembering who we worship and live for...
God is our Creator—who says in Isaiah 44:24 “I formed you from the womb: I am the Lord who made all things who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.” He is mighty! He has limitless power! He is worthy of our praise!
And God is our Redeemer. He gave his only Son to die in our place on the cross. And he says to us in Isaiah 44:22 “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
We only have a future in the gospel. Our only hope for pressing forward is that Jesus has taken us as his own. May the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 3:12-13 become our heart-cry:
 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Amen. Let’s press forward together toward Christ.
Please support my efforts with a financial gift. See A Timely Call to Help the Detwilers. Thank you.