Diverging Paths – Fairfax Church and Florida Pastors Contemplate Separation from Sovereign Grace Ministries
This Friday marks one year since I sent out four documents regarding concerns for C.J. Mahaney and other leaders to all the Sovereign Grace pastors. Much has transpired, but nothing has changed. C.J. remains on a collision course. On Friday, I will address the most central question facing Sovereign Grace Ministries.
In this post, I want to make you aware of Mark Mullery’s comments regarding SGM at their recent Family Meeting on June 24. Mark is the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Fairfax. The church is one of the largest, oldest and most influential churches in the movement.
I also want to make you aware of a meeting that occurred on May 25 between all the Florida pastors and C.J., Jeff Purswell and Mickey Connolly. There are more SGM churches in Florida than any other state in the U.S. Thirteen churches sent their leaders to this meeting.
Over the past year, many pastors in SGM have encountered firsthand the sins I’ve outlined in my documents and on my blog. For instance, the depressing experience at the Pastors Conference last November when C.J. minimized all his sins, condemned others, called for the discipline of “slanderers,” and justified himself. Though he promised a confession, he showed absolutely no contrition for anything he or anyone else in SGM has done wrong. Pastors throughout the movement were alarmed by his attitude and the content of his personal update. The Covenant Life Church pastors asked the SGM Board to release the audio for their church to hear but the Board refused knowing how damming it was to C.J.
The same kind of experience happened to the 62 pastors who signed the March 7, 2012 letter protesting the way the interim Board handpicked the new Board (including Mickey Connolly and Craig Cabinass from the interim Board) to replace them without stopping and listening to concerns. These pastors from 17 churches were totally ignored. The examples of such pride and independence are abundant from this past year. Moving on.
Mark Mullery does a good job describing the pastors’ negative experience with SGM and the “diverging paths in polity, principles and practices.” He does not, however, address the root issues of sin behind these descriptions.
Over the last 12 years, I have tried to help C.J. turn from destructive patterns of serious sin. Those include pride, hypocrisy, living by a double standard, being unteachable, rejecting input, remaining unaccountable, viewing himself as superior, refusing to answer hard questions, ostracizing people who correct him, withdrawing from people who challenge him, etc. These kinds of sin are apparent in Mark’s description. I should add that Mark was one of the most highly esteemed leaders by C.J. just a year ago. Now you can add him to the extremely long list of people C.J. has cut off over the past three decades.
You can listen to the entire meeting but here are Mark’s specific comments regarding SGM starting at minute 49:54. See http://www.sovgracefairfax.org/family-meeting8.
Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax- Family Meeting (June 24, 2012)
Update on Sovereign Grace Ministries (Minutes 49:54-59:35)
“So just to recap the polity working group. As Paul [Shirey] explained, we have done a lot of study. How is Christ’s authority expressed in our local church? We believe that local churches like ours are to be autonomous and there is no scripturally mandated or inherent authority above or outside of the local church.
“We also believe its desirable, as Paul said, even essential for us to be associated with other churches; but those associations must never compromise the local governing of each individual church. In looking at our future and considering what God’s call might be upon us, we are seeking a biblically based and principled approach in all that we do, not only what we do within the polity framework, but also in terms of our association. We want to respond not out of sort of a reaction to any particular situation but we want to move forward guided by scripture and principal.
“So how do we objectively lay out all of our current thinking about our own church alongside the developments we’ve watched unfolding within Sovereign Grace Ministries a family of churches with whom we have been in fruitful partnership for nearly 30 years? How do we put those two things together? And what do we find when we look at both of them? Well, let’s just do a little review.
"Sovereign Grace Ministries continues to move forward. The year 2012 started with the release in late January of the Interim Boards’ three review panel reports which were distributed to you. These reports contained numerous recommendations but the Interim Board concluded that they found nothing in the reports that would disqualify CJ Mahaney from serving as President or serving in gospel ministry. With more developments to come as that was received we realized that to get a better sense of Sovereign Grace Ministries direction we needed more information; and so we particularly looked forward to the Ambassadors of Reconciliation report and decided that our strategy, back at the time, would be just to continue to work on our own polity and then to patiently see what developed with Sovereign Grace Ministries and in particular what would emerge from that report.
“One of the decisions we made early in the year with the counsel of our Financial Advisory Team was to suspend our financial giving to Sovereign Grace Ministries until substantive answers were given to our questions.
“So in March, we then sent a letter to the Sovereign Grace Ministries Board in which we declined to participate in the process they had developed for selecting nominees to a new board. We appealed at the time that they slow down, stop and listen, and that they create forums for pastors to be able to speak together, to have a horizontal conversation and dialogue amongst themselves and with the interim board and that they also call together a council of all the pastors from all the churches to discuss our future and make decisions together; and most of you are aware of these things, this is just by way of review since a number of months have gone by.
“We said back at the time that we had no plans to leave Sovereign Grace Ministries and that we strongly desired constructive dialog with them. At the time leaders from seventeen other Sovereign Grace churches were in general agreement with the concerns we were expressing and they co-signed that letter. To date we have not received a formal response from the Sovereign Grace Ministries Board to the letter; although several informal conversations have taken place.
“Later in that month of March, the permanent board was announced; and CJ was reinstated as President of the Leadership Team not a member of the board but President of a separate Leadership Team in what was described as a temporary role. They also announced the formation of their own Polity Committee; a committee that was to be chaired by CJ and subsequently it was announced that Phil Sasser, another pastor, would co-chair that with him.
“Following an SGM Board meeting in Louisville in April, the Board released the Ambassadors of Reconciliation report that we’d been waiting for. Well, this report did not address everything we’d hoped for but it did provide numerous specific recommendations for Sovereign Grace Ministries; more to say on that in a moment.
“A couple days after that report was released the Board announced that Sovereign Grace Ministries was leaving the building it has shared with Covenant Life Church and relocating to Louisville. Among the reasons they cited for the move was the high cost of living in the DC Metro area and the proximity in Louisville to Southern Seminary. I understand the move is expected to begin this month.
“So, moving forward to today; where do we find ourselves today? Well, we still have not received answers to many of the questions that we’ve posed to the Sovereign Grace Ministries Board dating back two years. We have no regional representative nor have we been part a regional phone call or meeting in the year 2011 or 2012. We continue to have very limited communication with Sovereign Grace Board members.
“One of the panel reports recommended that when there are relational difficulties with a church planter and key people within Sovereign Grace Ministries leadership or churches they should not proceed with the plant. Yet there are plans underway for C.J. to plant a church in Louisville despite significant relational difficulties with a number of people. There has been no explanation from Sovereign Grace Ministries about how that decision was made or how that [is a] response to that recommendation. The decision to move to Louisville was not made with input from Sovereign Grace Ministries churches like ours. C.J.’s appointment as co-chair of Sovereign Grace Ministries Polity Committee seems to us to be out of step with his statements from last November about his limited gifting and his desire to focus on pastoral ministry.
“The panel reports that were released in January and the AoR Report that was released later [in April] both listed actions that they recommended to Sovereign Grace Ministries take. To date the Sovereign Grace Ministries Board has not communicated their plan to implement those recommendations. These are significant events.
“In light of what we’ve seen it seems to us that we and Sovereign Grace Ministries are on diverging paths in polity, principles and practices. So, what next? When will we make a decision about our association with Sovereign Grace Ministries? Well, I want to remind you of our strategy – we’re doing what we’ve been doing; we want to continue to work on our own polity and we want to patiently see what develops within Sovereign Grace Ministries.
“I want us to remember as well tonight that Sovereign Grace Ministries is not a logo, or a website or an institution; it’s a group of people, brothers for whom Christ died, people we continue to love and pray for and with whom we will soon enough spend eternity together. So we continue to take this patient approach to this enormously significant and important decision. We know that God can act at any time and can change things quickly if He so desires.
“We won’t know for sure what Sovereign Grace Ministries polity is until we see the final partnership agreement that will outline how they will be associated with member churches and what authority will look like. We’ve heard that this final version will be ready sometime in the fall and as developments occur within Sovereign Grace Ministries we will continue to communicate them to you.”
Florida Pastors Meet with C.J. (May 25, 2012)
The Florida pastors requested a meeting with C.J. In advance they sent him a long list of questions. You’ll find them below. The meeting did not go well. The vast majority of men were displeased and troubled by the evening. A large number of the pastors left planning to position their churches to leave SGM in the coming year because of C.J.’s tone, attitude, and approach and the events of the past year. At his meeting, C.J. acknowledged no wrong doing and confessed no sin. Jeff Purswell and Mickey Connolly were there to defend him.
It was a repeat of the Pastors Conference in November. C.J. did not answer their questions and spent the evening justifying himself and placing the blame upon others like the Covenant Life pastors. Many of the leaders in Florida believe everything C.J. is doing contradicts all he has preached. In particular, they can’t begin to support C.J. until he is reconciled to the Covenant Life pastors. I’ve encouraged these men to write up their observations from the meeting for the Board of Directors and the other pastors in the movement. People need to be told. We are way beyond the first and second steps of Matthew 18.
From: Brent Detwiler
Sent: Wednesday, July 04, 2012 10:44 AM
To: Keith Collins; Peter Davidson; Jeff Ehrhardt; Matt Mason; Pete Schefferstein; Phil Courson; Mike Gilland; Shannon Day; John Lenfestey; Wayne Brooks; Jon Morales; David Traugott; Luan Nguyen; Joe Calabello; Ed Edwards; Jerry Cisar; Steve Brunson; Ryan Carver; Daryn Kinney; Danny Jones; Chip Chew; Aaron Law; Mike Nash; Benny Phillips; Al Pino; Corey Schmatjen; Jose Prado; Bentley Crawford; Jason Stubblefield; Brian Brookins; Adam Greenfield; Michael Rizutti; Jesse Jarvis; Tim Merwin; Alex Bowman; Chris Dunlop
Subject: C.J.'s Conduct at May 25 Meeting
Over the past year, C.J. has given repeated evidence to the patterns of sin I pointed out in my documents. Your experience with him on May 25 is one example among many. Long ago C.J. should have been rebuked in public for his continuation in sin. Those of you who observed these kinds of sins in your meeting and on other occasions should together (individual appeals carry little weight) write a letter to C.J. appealing for his repentance. If he is unresponsive you should send a report to all the pastors of SGM about the meeting and your interaction with C.J. This kind of accountability is desperately needed if there is any hope for reform in C.J.’s life since the current Board of Directors continues to enable him just like the interim Board did. Such appeals and honesty must come from those outside the Board who are impartial.
I hope and pray you will act with courage and decisiveness.
In predictable fashion, John Loftness, Chairman of the Board of Directors for SGM, wrote the following in response to the Florida pastors and others who are raising concerns.
“C.J. was the object of an enormous amount of gossip and slander during this past year, and that has damaged his reputation, undermined his ability to lead, and created an atmosphere of suspicion in some quarters of our family of churches.” (John Loftness, Board Update: Defining Sovereign Grace Leadership; Positioning C.J. Mahaney as President, June 28, 2012)
John has yet to acknowledge any flaws in C.J. or any problems in SGM. He too places the blame on others and concludes there is no basis for “atmosphere of suspicion” except gossip and slander. Therefore, questions and concerns are illegitimate. They arise out of evil suspicions according to John since C.J. is blameless and the SGM Board is guiltless. As I mentioned in my last blog post; the old Board, the interim Board, and the new Board have yet to acknowledged any wrong doing or take any responsibility for the sin problems that exist in SGM.
Here what’s obvious. John Loftness is not holding C.J. accountable. Nor is the current Board of Directors. The same patterns of sin I’ve sought to address in C.J.’s life are still on displayed for all too see. There has been no repentance. That’s why there has been no confession and no fruit; no reconciliation and no restitution. Half the pastors in SGM are beginning to recognize this sad truth. The other half still have their heads buried in the sand. The real question is whether or not anyone has the courage to hold C.J. accountable for his words and actions from this past year. Theoretically, you could throw out all my documents and still have plenty of evidence to remove C.J. as President of SGM.
The bad experience of the Florida pastors with C.J. must be told to the SGM pastors and churches. It serves as another example of C.J.’s continuation in the same sinful patterns of behavior that have been brought to his attention for over a decade. He needs to be publicly rebuked by men from all quarters of SGM who do not fear his wrath and are willing to suffer any consequences that may follow.
Questions for C.J. from Florida Pastors (Friday, May 25, 6pm-10pm)
Covenant Life Church
- Why did you feel you could leave Covenant Life in these circumstances when for 30 years you’ve championed local church accountability?
- Why have other pastors had to stay at churches under super difficult circumstances and you were able to leave?
- On a similar theme: as a young guy (I’m 27 years old, in SGM for 7 years), my observation is that you are the exception to lots of “rules.” For example: with your relational difficulties with CLC, you got to announce a church plant! I can’t help but wonder if say, a senior pastor was having serious relational difficulties in their church that SGM would announce his church plant and approve him to go? Do you feel you are the exception in SGM, CJ? Why or why not?
- How are things with CJ and Josh?
- How has the Gospel brought reconciliation between them?
- What would CJ say has been Josh’s struggle with CJ? (We would also be wondering - how has this affected his relationship with guys like Robin Boisvert or Kenneth Maresco? Guys who served together for many years.)
- These struggles did not pop up overnight; does CJ see change needed in his leadership and character that he did not see over the past years? If yes, what changes is he seeking to make?
- Do all of the CLC pastors fully support you planting a church at this time?
- What are we missing when men who we respect like Kenneth, Grant, Robin and Josh decide to take CLC in the direction they are going? The same could be asked about Fairfax.
- Do you believe the elders of one’s home church, have the greatest biblical mandate to evaluate a fellow elders’ character and conduct? Why did you choose to not follow the recommendations of the elders of CLC last July/August time frame for how to work through the charges?
- Do you believe you have fully reconciled with the CLC elders, and would they feel the same? If not, what do you perceive the offenses between you to be? Specifically, what is your offense with them? And do you perceive their offense with you to be? Are you pursuing (active present) reconciliation still?
- Historically, SGM pastors have been required/expected to remain at their home church while their competency/qualifications were being reviewed. What is the biblical support for not following the same approach?
- Please update us as to why CLC is not on the new Board.
- Can C.J. say he has the full support of the elders and the support of the church? If yes, what does that support look like? If no, why is that ok?
- Given the history of broken relationships, what is your relationship like with the elders at CLC? In particular, Robin Boisvert, Kenneth Maresco, and Grant Laymen – your brother in law? These are men who have served with you for years.
- If you are to resign as President of SGM (according to your statement), why did SGM move to Louisville when you are planting a church there? Is now your church in Louisville the base church for SGM instead of CLC or some other SGM church?
- On April 19th 2012, there was a letter posted on the Sovereign Grace Ministries web site explaining the Board’s decision to relocate the Pastor’s College to Louisville. On this letter it was stated that it was the Board’s decision to do so after a vote at the first retreat the board had together. Who set up such a big decision to be made in light of the lack of time that the board had been together and able to prayerfully and wisely consider all the options and implications of such a move?
- On February 27th 2012, the interim board sent out a letter outlining four priorities for the new board, none of these priorities called for a decision on a move to Louisville. What would cause the new board to put aside their priorities as stated by this letter and engage on a vote to relocate Sovereign Grace Ministries to another city? Who made that call and when was it made?
- The vote to move Sovereign Grace Ministries to Louisville took place on the board’s retreat April 9th-10th yet nothing was communicated to the SGM pastors until a letter was posted on the web site April 19th. Many pastors who don’t regularly check the web site didn’t even find out till days after. Why was this move communicated to pastors and leaders outside SGM prior to the pastors of SGM?
- Why were so many details of the move to Louisville discussed and acted upon prior to the board’s inception and most importantly prior to the vote (i.e. talks with Southern Theological Seminar, homes being listed for sale, etc...)?
- Do you think that the decision to make a major ministry change – moving to Louisville – was appropriate for the new board’s first official meeting? Was this vote anything but a token procedure? How could it (the vote by the new board) be taken as a serious consideration when several SGM staffers had already placed their houses on the market for sale?
SGM Board and Your Role
- There is this perception that when the “Board votes” or “decides” something that it’s all a sham (meaning: the vote really doesn’t mean anything...things are decided long before the Board gives input or the Pastors give input). For example recently it was public knowledge that your house, along with a few others were on the market for sale weeks before the Board “approved” the move to Louisville. It gives the perception that it was already a “done deal” long before the Board ever approved it. How are decisions made on the Board?
- Currently, you are the President and the new “polity” in SGM is that the Leadership team and Board are separate. What direct input are you able to give to the Board? How do you affect their decisions?
- Does it give you confidence as President that only 50% of Pastors “approved” the new Board? 30% were not in favor, and 20% didn’t even respond [because they did not agree with the process]. Does that give you reason to pause? Are you considering figuring out why it appears only half of the movement is in support of this current new direction?
- Do you believe that pastors should nominate Board members from each region and also have a direct vote on who is on the Board?
- CJ, in the letter you wrote that accompanied the panel reports, you said, “In light of all of this, here is how I think I can best serve you in the days ahead: as I step back into the role as president, I will do so only temporarily. I think it would be wise for SGM to have a new president who has gifts better suited to serve Sovereign Grace in this next season. I love SGM and I want the best for SGM. Lord willing, I look forward to serving SGM more effectively in a different role. So my return will be temporary and with a few important intentions.” What time line for and process for transition do you envision for this new president, and what new role do you anticipate for yourself?
- In November I believe you stated that a weakness in your past leadership has been speed/lack of process/time for decisions to settle in with others. If I am remembering correctly... then please explain if/how that affected the Louisville relocation decision... this announcement seemed to feel, at least to me, rushed given the magnitude of the decision and the lack of time the Board had been seated.
- How do we reconcile the leadership conference [last November]? CJ told us his leadership is why SGM is where it is.... / he has not been positioned in his gifting / etc.... (this is not a quote - but I think it is the gist of what he was saying). Now the shift seems to be plant a church and move SGM next to where he will pastor -- does this seem confusing? Are we building the movement around CJ’s church plant -- I assume that is to be the “flag ship”....
- Does it seem we are breaking the very things we have taught and held dear to make this move of SGM and this church plant happen?
- How does this precedence guard against leadership style differences in the future?
- How does our theology inform this methodology of taking SGM headquarters to a different location?
- Affirmation process -- lots of questions on the affirmation process of the new board. I would like to hear a straight up –
- This is what we were thinking on the affirmation process.
- This is how we set it up and why.
- This is how we thought about the pastors that did not participate (Fairfax letter)
- This is how we thought about the comments made by the pastors who did participate but voiced concerns on different nominees.
- This is how we gathered all the data and determined what we determined. This is why this board was affirmed (I still don’t have any real sense that the board was affirmed and that is not good...)
- How do you plan to help improve our communications between local churches/pastors and SGM leadership?
- What were the criteria used for the nomination of board members? How can
- interim board members nominate themselves to the permanent board?
- I was one who DID offer a great deal of input on the list of new board members. I made a strong appeal, but my feedback was not even acknowledged as having been received. What assurances do we as pastors in SGM have that our thoughts or input would ever be heeded in any polity discussions?
Three Panel Reports
- In light of the SGM panel reports, especially the one with Larry Tomczak, has there or is there going to be any steps to follow through on that report?
- According to the SGM panel reports, there was a recommendation that we not plant churches when the SGM board or the elders of that particular church are not in full faith for the pastor to plant. Given that you changed your membership from CLC to Solid Rock, do you think the elders of CLC would recommend such a move?
- Please update us as to the status of the recommendations from the panel reviews.
- To some it would appear you don’t personally own or have experience with the type of polity we are trying to pursue. Why then are you the head of the polity committee? How would you explain to us how you personally own or have experience with the type of polity we’re after?
- What do you personally believe the polity in SGM should look like going forward?
- What will the relationship be (not just polity) between the new leadership team and the new board team? How will they function together? Will the local pastors relate to them differently than they have related to the “apostolic team” previously?
- CJ, it appears that there has been a chain of broken relationships that have either remained or gone long periods of time unresolved in your life with those you have served with in ministry. Do you believe this speaks to a character issue in you? Does it have any bearing on your qualification as President of the ministry?
- How are things with SGM and CLC?
- Besides the economical and financial reasons given for a move, how has the CLC / SGM struggles brought about this move? (It seems disingenuous to say we are only moving because of financial reasons and because we have been thinking this for a long time.... It seems like we want to pretend there is no elephant in the room .)
- Much of what has unfolded since last July within SGM could seemingly have been avoided had our leaders – specifically CJ – put into practice our own teachings on practical relationships and the critical need to “get up from our altar” and go to the one with whom we have some sense of offense – and be reconciled. How is it that this did not happen with Larry Tomczak and with Brent?
- In a pivotal moment last November (at the Pastor’s Conference), CJ forfeited what could – and I believe would - have been a healing moment had he assumed responsibility for his own actions. He chose instead to “up the ante” in terms of the gap between relationships. What prevented you (CJ) from owning the things that were clearly out of order (including those things that were in Brent’s documents)? Please know – I do not agree with much of what Brent has said and done. But the fact remains that your comments contained therein do reflect both attitudes and decisions that have to be acknowledged.
- The panel reports recommended that a man not plant a church without the recommendation of the sending church elders. Given the long-term nature of the relationship with CLC and the only transitional nature of that with Solid Rock, do all of the CLC pastors fully support you planting a church at this time? If not, why not?
- We still do not understand.... we need more data to understand why CJ can leave CLC and all SGC churches -- reasons given at leadership conference did not resolve the question in our minds. This then leads to the obvious question: how can CJ plant a church with how he left CLC and without the support of his local elders?
- Why was it necessary to leave CLC and go to CHBC and how was that consistent with the Gospel?
- Would any other pastor in SGM receive the green light to lead a church plant when he was in a state of fallout with his own church, and out of relationship with his co-pastors to such a degree as what has happened in this situation?
- Communication that is lacking between SGM leaders and local pastors. Will this be the way things are done in the future? That is, SGM’s leadership asks SGM pastors for feedback or participation and no response is given to the individuals who participate by providing feedback. This does not foster confidence in the upcoming discussions about polity and church partnership agreements where our input will once again be solicited.
- The pastors of SGM were asked to affirm or register their concerns for the nominees to the new permanent SGM Board. I did not affirm any of the candidates at that time because I had concerns on the speed of the process with little communication in between. I made my concerns known both by a personal email to the Interim Board and by signing on to the Fairfax letter that stated similar concerns for the process and made appeals for slowing it down. Though we were asked for feedback, whether by affirming or raising concerns, the only response that I received to my email and concerns was a public response by the Interim Board that basically stated that “concerns by some pastors had been considered, but they were moving on with the process.” Even if a regional pastor or Interim Board member were given the assignment to contact each pastor who raised concerns (whether that contact and follow-up took place or not) this does not address nor solve what I perceive as a weak and troubling lack of clear, timely and effective communication between the Leaders of SGM and the pastors of SGM.
- Acknowledgement of past mistakes and lessons learned. Will there be, and in your opinion, should there be a formal and public acknowledgement of mistakes made. In the past by the SGM leadership team and pastors as well as a statement of lessons learned from past mistakes or shifts in policies, doctrine and practice?
- It is my opinion that this issue, if properly treated, will drive a stake in the ground that will be helpful in preserving our historical roots, strengthening our future partnerships, and demonstrate the humility that is commensurate with servant leadership. I suggest convocation of only SGM pastors for this exercise.
- How do you believe your leadership specifically has contributed to the current difficulties within SGM?
- In the response to the AoR report, I find this statement to be rather surprising – “I (C.J.) want to sincerely apologize for the ways in which deficiencies in my leadership have contributed to the ministry failures catalogued in this report.” This was the extent of the “repentance” statement. Why did you (CJ) use the language of “apology” instead of “repentance.” When we err, are we to “apologize”?
- News about changes in pneumatology has been floating around. Are their changes and if so, what are they? I would think there would be a lot of interest in this subject!
- Do you really believe that the difficulties you endured as a pastor at Covenant Life Church this past year, were so much more difficult than those endured by pastors like a Dan Stolldorf, Frank Ecelbarger, Chris Lutyk, Benny Phillips, Steve Whitman, or others who when leaving their roles were asked or expected to stay on in the churches and endured much as individuals and families, as to say that you were not expecting different treatment, but rather that yours were exceptional circumstances?
- How does CJ feel about Lay Elders -- we are moving in that direction here --any comments about that direction?
- What areas of historic concern need to be examined, where there have been shifts of emphasis without clear communication of such shifts?
- Do you believe that formal input from pastors and churches would be beneficial? If so, what would that look like if you could decide yourself?
- Has there been or is there going to be any further steps to repent of wrongdoing in light of the recent AoR report? Or do you feel that the “apology” given at the end of the report is sufficient?
- It is well noted that the many of the mid-Atlantic area churches were not in favor of John Loftness being their regional leader and over 62 pastors and over 30 churches did not affirm these men to lead SGM. Will the pastors of SGM ever have a voice in the nomination of their leaders?
- Why was such a sweeping statement as (paraphrased) – “I moved my family to Capitol Hill Baptist to avoid their being assaulted...” – used to typify CLC’s response to you and your family? Did you intend to categorize the whole church in this way?
- The AoR report recommends: “Repent and believe the Gospel...Confess your individual and corporate sins” (p. 35). As you look back at our history and all that had been taught and practiced in SGM churches as a whole (or to a large extent), are there sins and/or errors that you would acknowledge? If so, will you make a written, public acknowledgment and repentance of these things? Or, is what is written in CJ’s and the Board’s response under “Pastoral Practice” the extent of it?
More on next page in form of a letter.
Dear CJ and Board Members,
As a fellow pastor I want to thank you for seeking to play a role of leading and caring for our family of churches. I know that your lives are full and your responsibilities apart from this role are many and that embracing this responsibility in this hour is going to come with a personal cost to you, your family, and your local churches. Any suggestions, comments, or concerns that I may express are soaked in awareness of my own limitations and weaknesses that others have had to put up with in walking with me.
I realize you are having to sort through much feedback and input, so I’ll try to bullet and bold the basic essential points and if you are interested further you can read the rest of the info provided under each point.
Addressing the past before charting a course for the future. It seems like the last year to 2 years has been a season of dealing with past conflicts, deficiencies, and questionable structures. Before we seek to engineer the future, it seems critical that we analyze what exactly has and has not worked correctly and why. In my limited conversations with other pastors it seems that some have grown to feel it necessary to have a ‘fresh start’ and that view has effected how people are feeling about who should be on the board, and I can imagine that this will also effect how people feel about who is serving on the leadership team. A number of areas of past emphasis need to be openly and specifically addressed so that what we have learned by teaching, modeling, and emphasis can be clarified in our understanding and practice as local pastors.
- How should we assess issues of pride in the life of a pastor? What insights have been gained over the past few years in how leaders walk together in this area of evaluation and partnership? It seems that a common area of disqualification has been the evaluation of a man’s pride. Pride in forms like in entreatability, approachability, plurality, disaffection over being corrected, etc. was connected to issues with Larry Tomczak, Brent, CJ, and others in leadership. This area of a man’s heart is not easy to accurately discern and yet it appears that situations like these have involved decisions about a man’s leadership that have drastically altered their roles and ability to serve in the future. What have we learned in this area? Will we continue to address this area as we have or do we think we need to do some things differently?
- Realistic adjustment to the expectations and parameters of local leadership teams. What was emphasized through conference introductions, sermon illustrations, and apostolic team input was that exceptional friendships and relationships among leadership teams were a norm. Sharing of life, open exchange of confession/adjustment, care, involvement with families, etc. were presented as common and attainable. While it served to give us something to aim at, it did not seem to contain enough realism and left many teams wondering what we were doing wrong. With issues now being partially published about relationships between CJ, Brent, Larry Tomczak, Pat Ennis, the Covenant Life elders, and others in varying roles of leadership, it seems pretty important to more specifically address what failed and why. In the past couple of years it seems that there’s been a few local teams that have gone through some form of implosion and it appears that part of this may be related to unrealistic expectations that were present on those teams.
- The qualifying and disqualifying of pastors on the basis of their children’s faith and behavior. When I first began attending PDI conferences in the mid-late 90’s, it was a somewhat regular event for a pastor to publicly resign. The dominant and usually related issues were about assessing a man’s pride and his parenting. They read statements that included wordings like, ‘this did not have to happen’. There were teachings that a man’s gifting would be confirmed by the behavior of his children. But in the early 2000’s to present there were numerous pastoral situations where children were wayward but there was no resignation or public adjustment made and the pastor continued to serve as he had been serving. With such careful and intentional modeling and teaching in the past, it seems necessary to do as much careful explaining and adjusting in the present if insights and practices have changed in this area. To not do so is to assume that local pastors--often inexperienced and zealous pastors will understand and correctly adjust their opinions and approach in these areas.
- The need for clarity on handling the doctrine of sin and our role with one another in participating in one another’s sanctification. This seems to be an issue on the table for evaluation and clarification.
Evaluation of past apostolic ministry needs to include more than issues of structure and authority. Having come from a situation where all we had was local leadership and influence, I see a need for some form of healthy extra-local ministry in the local church. It seems much of the discussion in this area is focused on the authority of apostolic ministry and the inference that there were situations where that authority was over played in the past. It would be helpful to get clarity on what that looked like and what exactly needs to be done to correct that. It may be more a matter of how individual apostolic men conduct themselves and how they should see themselves functioning in a plurality rather than creating a future structure without apostolic ministry. Similar problems can easily occur in local teams and the remedy probably is not to do away with the Sr. Pastor role for instance, but rather to adjust how that role functions in plurality with others.
- Clarity on the accusations that have piled up against CJ are needed. Over the past months there have been many documents and comments made that have affected the public perception of CJ. That has been further influenced by the fact that some of these statements have been made by people who were respected leaders within SGM and who worked in settings that are not publicly observed by many people within SGM who are now asked to follow CJ. Since it seems clear that CJ is very gifted and has been very fruitful in leading this family of churches, and that every effort should be made to rightly employ those gifting’s in the future, it seems important to bring clarity to areas of accusation that would affect other people’s ability to follow his leadership.
- If CJ truly struggles with giving consistent, unbiased leadership to others and with receiving input from other leaders, when he is offended or disagreed with, then that would make it hard for others to feel confident in his leadership and would affect his ability to play the role of President or other leadership team roles. But that has not clearly been stated as true or not.
- If CJ simply holds his views with strong convictions and other leaders have historically found it challenging to adjust his input, that’s not necessarily disqualifying. Most people are leaders because they have some ideas that make sense to them, they feel strongly about those ideas, and they seek to implement those ideas. The question is whether or not CJ can both give strong leadership, with strong convictions and still make room for a humble functional plurality.
- The future of outside influence for SGM. Without question we have benefited by receiving much preaching and doctrinal help from strong teachers within the reformed community. There is wisdom and influence that we are eager to welcome from others in the body of Christ like those at Southern Seminary. The leadership strengths of the gifted men in T4G have brought extremely helpful influence. What seems to be diminishing is to have significant input and influence from others in the larger body of Christ who can have the same type of influence and effect on our practice of engaging the Holy Spirit on a larger scale and in broader ways (I say broader ways because I believe the ministries of the T4G team and Southern Seminary are important expressions of the Spirit’s ministry as well). Is there no place any longer for men like Terry Virgo who share much in common with us and have insights and experiences in New Testament ministry that we also greatly need?
- The call for the leadership team to lead and their receiving of input from SGM pastors. It seems that many are of the opinion that former leadership in SGM was not accustomed to seeking the input of the local pastors in many leadership decisions. I do recall several occasions where we’ve been asked to give input on upcoming planning of conferences and feedback on how things were being done, so I do think there’s been opportunity, but for the most part we have granted the leadership team the role of leading with limited amounts of input. I don’t believe that leadership should be done by polling, but in this important time frame, I do think it is important that greater dialog gets created and more input is received before more forward motion is sought. We are still in the paradigm of shepherd and sheep, and it behooves the shepherds to know the condition of their sheep, lest they move on without them. This season has stirred up issues of trust for some, questions of methods/policies for others, and concerns for the ability for future partnership for others. In that environment it doesn’t seem that haste should be our setting. In a movement that has grown significantly in the past 10 years, there may need to be a season of regrouping and gaining like-mindedness and receiving something of an outpouring from God that will protect us, solidify us, and launch us into the future. It needs to seem good to us and the Holy Spirit--this was the voice of the plural leaders and extended team in Jerusalem and would perhaps serve us well also.
- Placing realistic boundaries on local pastors who are involved in extra-local ministry. It seems like some discussion needs to occur concerning what to expect from those who function in an extra-local role. There are many factors that contribute to this limited role (the man’s level of gifting & experience, his responsibilities in his own church, his season of life with his family, his distance from the day to day activity of the church he is supporting, limited awareness of local leadership issues there, etc.). What has been learned over the years in this area that may need to be taught and clarified to the local teams and churches.
- Recognizing that Relational Trust has been weakened. I have always greatly appreciated the emphasis on relational ministry within SGM. It was one of the things that attracted me to pursuing extra-local ministry as it was modeled in SGM. There was love, respect, care, and honoring being modeled in these relationships that we observed from a distance. People that I spent time with, like Phil Courson, taught me to love and trust men like Danny Jones, who taught me to love and trust men like Brent, who taught me to love and trust men like CJ and Dave. Conference settings and the like provided opportunities for CJ and Dave to strengthen my abilities to trust and appreciate guys like Josh Harris, Mark Mullery, and Pat Ennis. It is this relational practice and influence that has created the level of trust that has characterized our past. But it is realistic to assume that when Brent does what he did, Josh [Harris] and Mark [Mullery] have been associated with internal conflict and are no longer held out as influential men to the leadership team, and Pat Ennis resigns amidst questions, there will be damage done to the relational fabric that has built trust within the movement. It took a long time to build this fabric and the way things have unfolded has created weakness and the leadership team and board may need to be prepared to repair what has been weakened. This would be influential in how and how quickly the leadership attempts to move us forward in this season.
Please support my efforts with a financial gift. See A Timely Call to Help the Detwilers. Thank you.