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NEWS ALERT: Two Highly Respected Churches Make Plans to Separate from Sovereign Grace Ministries and Start a New Association of Churches

Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland and Sovereign Grace Church in Fairfax, Virginia are the first and third largest churches in SGM.  More importantly, they are the most respected in the opinion of many.  Both are making plans to separate from SGM and start a new association of churches. 

Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax (SGCF) gathered three weeks ago to hear their senior pastor, Mark Mullery, talk about the upcoming decision to end their partnership with Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) and start a new association of churches with Covenant Life Church (CLC).  These decisions have not been finalized, nor have plans for the new association been put into place, but both developments are all but certain. 

Recently four of the pastors from SGCF discussed their concerns for SGM by phone with members of the SGM Board.  These concerns included the contents found in three letters posted on the SGM website on September 12 and 14.  Here is a transcript of Mark’s comments along with my commentary in blue lettering

Mark Mullery Speaking to SGCF 

“The purpose for the phone call was to discuss several recent communications from SGM and as we discussed some of our disagreements, Mickey [Connolly] indicated that he would be glad for us to put our thoughts together in writing.  To communicate those thoughts to the SGM leadership.  So we are working on that.” 

The “several recent communications from SGM” include the three letters. 

“We are working on a letter with Covenant Life in response to their call.  And what we are trying to do is we are trying to summarized not only our experience in that call, but we are trying to summarize and pull together the cumulative experiences that we have had and the leadership practices that we can’t support.  We are trying to create a summary statement for them.”  

The phone call with Mickey Connolly and other Board Members turned into another bad experience for the SGCF pastors.  One of many over the past 15 months.  They have seen and experienced the heavy handed practices of SGM up close and personal.  They can no longer support such practices.  

The SGCF pastors concluded a four day retreat yesterday.  So did the CLC pastors.  Both groups worked on a letter to the SGM Board and Leadership Team.  This letter will “pull together the cumulative experiences that we have had and the leadership practices that we can’t support.”  

SGCF is separating because Mickey and associates continue to lead in proud and abusive ways.  Nothing has changed since I wrote Response Regarding Friendship and Doctrine three and a half years ago.  The same sinful practices continue.  How can SGCF and CLC possibly stay at this point?  They can’t because there has been no reform or repentance.  Bad fruit continues to grow on a bad tree.  Time to cut it down (Matt 17:17-20). 

“Prior to any decision to separate we want to be faithful to communicate both our experiences and our evaluation to SGM leaders and we want to give them an opportunity to respond if they desire.” 

Praise God!  Every departing pastor and church should do the same.  Sharing one’s experience and evaluation won’t make a difference if C.J. continues to harden his heart but it is the “faithful” thing to do.  God provided many testimonies against Pharaoh before he called his people out of the bondage of Egypt.  The Lord is doing the same with SGM.  

“So the letter will be fairly specific in terms of some of the examples that will be involved and some of our personal experiences.  And we’ll be seeking to use those to illustrate the experiences we had that have caused us to lose confidence in them.”  

It should be specific but that practically guarantees no response (or a very vague one) from C.J. and the Board of Directors.  They never address particular facts or specific evidence because they have no defense to offer.  They know it is more advantageous to be silent or limit a response to general statements.  

These “personal experiences” have caused the Fairfax pastors “to lose confidence in them.”  I lost confidence in C.J. in 2004.  Men throughout the history of SGM have lost confidence in C.J.  Scores of great leaders left SGM because they no longer trusted C.J. due to bad experiences with his “leadership practices.”  Now 25 of the most respected pastors in Sovereign Grace Ministries are on the verge of leaving.  Half these men are long time and personal friends of C.J.  In spite of this, C.J., John Loftness, Mickey Connolly and the hand-picked Board of Directors continue to argue their collective innocence and blame everyone else for the problems in SGM.  

SGM leaders have done nothing to earn back the trust they rightly lost over the past 15 months.  I wrote a post on the subject back in January.  Here is an excerpt. 

Trust – The One Thing that Changes Everything
Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 8:04 AM
Brent Detwiler

“’There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy and civilization throughout the world – one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love…. That one thing is trust.’[1] 

“The SGM Board and its agents have caused ruination like a F5 tornado.  They’ve destroyed trust every time they withheld information, distorted facts, refused to answer hard questions, broke promises, applied a double standard, showed favoritism, put their own interests first, spun the truth, or acted deceitfully.  That is the story of the last two years.”          

“Because of that we intend this to be a private letter.  So, what’s our decision?  Well, we are nearing a decision point regarding our relationship with SGM but we really aren’t just quite there yet.  It’s a really big decision and we want to continue to walk in an orderly and judicious and principled way.  There really is no rush." 

It’s okay to keep a detailed letter private but the pastors must provide the church an in-depth explanation of their reasons for recommending separation.  Otherwise, the church has no basis on which to evaluate their proposal.  The same is true of the CLC pastors.  See A Reasoned Response to an Unreasonable Board (Part 1).  The Fairfax pastors also have an obligation to communicate with the SGM pastors and movement.  People must be alerted that harmful and destructive “leadership practices” continue unabated.  Joel 2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.

"And so we want to continue to communicate with you about this important issue.  We want to continue to pray and ask the Father to guide us in these things and regardless of what happens with SGM, we desire to continue and to strengthen our partnership with Covenant Life Church.  At the minimum, we see that involving mission, church planting, extension of the gospel, and fellowship – building one another up in love as we talked about this morning." 

SGCF will end their partnership with SGM and start a new partnership with CLC.  One that builds up in love in contrast to their experience with SGM.

"We’re very, very grateful that they share the same desire to work closely with us and want to continue with us to discuss principles of association.  So where do we go from here?  What are our next steps?  Well as you just heard from Rich, thanks Rich, we want to finalize our own polity.  We have complete control over that.  That is the most important thing in front of us and we just want to keep taking steps that we need to take to get a paper out to you and then eventually get to our governing documents."

SGCF and CLC are excited about working closely together.  They are discussing “principles of association.”  In other words, they are making plans for a new association of churches.  This will serve as a wonderful alternative for all the pastors and churches in SGM who have also “lost confidence” in C.J. and SGM because of their leadership practices.    

"We are two-thirds of the way through our “What’s Next” preaching series.  Again, we are trying to be intentional about thinking about the future.  What does maturity look like?  What do, as we talked about last week, associations look like?  What are the principles around which we think we should associate with churches.  And as I mentioned last week, four obvious ones would be, [1] we want to unite around the gospel, [2] we want to unite around a common commitment to put the gospel into practice, [3] we want to unite around a shared mission to go into the world with the gospel, and [4] we want to unite around a shared a desire to work together in love and fellowship.  We want to work with people who want to work with us.  Who want to be in a relationship that is mutually strengthening and edifying." 

The pastors are being intentional about the future of the church.  That means they are series about making plans for the future.  They don’t want to drift or be on their own.  That want to be part of a new and vibrant association of churches.  Not just with CLC but with other churches also.  These churches will unite around the gospel, applying the gospel, world missions, and mutual love and fellowship. 

It is a said fact that C.J., Dave Harvey and Interim Board cut off the SGCF pastors.  Once the Fairfax pastors began to raise serious concerns for SGM, they became persona non grata – unwelcomed persons.  For three decades, C.J. has demonstrated this entrenched pattern of breaking off friendship with those that correct or criticize him. 

Fifteen months ago, Mark Mullery was one of the most honored and respected leaders in all of SGM.  He was given premier speaking assignments by C.J. at major conferences and taught in the Pastors College.  He was often commended by C.J. for his humility and insight.  Now he is cut off.

Fifteen months ago, Joshua Harris was on the SGM Board Directors.  He was C.J.’s apprentice for eight years.  He came to CLC in 1997 and was installed by C.J. as senior pastor in 2004.  This was in fulfillment of C.J.’s life-long dream for turning the church over to a young man who was more gifted and godly then himself.  Joshua was added to the SGM Board of Directors in 2007 in order to replace C.J. as President/Chairman when C.J. turned 60 next year.  Now Joshua is cut off.  

Larry Tomczak was once C.J.’s close friend and co-worker.  Cut off.  For years I was C.J.’s close friend, chief confidant, and right hand man.  Cut off.  C.J. is a wrecking ball if you offend him. 

Larry, C.J., Bill Galbraith and I began People of Destiny International (now SGM) as a team in 1982.  We were all badly mistreated by C.J.  First Bill, then Larry, then me.  None of us remain.  Scores of former pastors and hundreds of people attest to the same. 

"So, what else?  Well, we understand that in October, SGM will be releasing and distributing their polity paper.  We understand that will be a proposal and that there will be an opportunity for pastors to review and churches to comment on that.  And at some point in October, we’ve been told mid to late October, that that will be released.  And so we will be reviewing that when it comes out."

This information is a bit inaccurate.  This week the Polity Committee presented their polity proposal to the SGM Board of Directors for a vote.  We can assume whatever form of governing they recommended was approved - either apostolic, Presbyterian or independent.  The approved polity proposal is now undergoing minor edits and revisions by the Board of Directors.  The final product will be forwarded to the SGM pastors for feedback before or during the upcoming Pastors Conference in Orlando on Oct 30-Nov 1.  Input from interested pastors may result in slight revisions or minor refinements but nothing will alter the substance of the proposal.  The Board is asking for feedback after the proposal was adopted not before it was adopted. 

In April, the SGM Board entertained the idea of putting the polity proposal up for a vote by the SGM pastors.  The Board promised to make a decision on this at their June retreat.  Instead they quietly buried the idea without comment.    

"We also, several pastors and wives plan to go to the Sovereign Grace Pastors Conference that’s at the end of October.  We want to do that because we think it will help us as a church to prepare for the future by being there.  We think it will help us to hear what SGM is saying about their future but we also think it will help us to have the opportunity to interact with many long term friends and relationships that we have with other pastors and leaders from this country and internationally as well." 

I’m glad some of the pastors and wives are going to the Pastors Conference.  There is less likelihood C.J. and the SGM Board will misrepresent them in private and public.  It also allows the couples to provide their many friends with the reasons for separating from SGM.  That is important even though C.J. and the Board will likely view these conversations as slanderous.  If you say anything bad about C.J. or the Board, you are a slanderer.  This despite the fact that C.J. and the Board have no problem saying bad things about you. 

A lot of pastors and churches will be leaving SGM.  If they love those who remain, they will be open and honest about their experiences.  How can you not warn friends of danger?

"And then finally, we come to the decision about separating from Sovereign Grace.  And the reality is, as I said a moment ago, any decision that has to do with our affiliation with other churches or with separating from a family of churches we have been together with for more than 30 years.  This is a really, really big decision.  We don’t make decisions like this every day.  In fact we’ve never made a decision like this before." 

Very true!  This underscores the enormity of what is finally coming to pass.  C.J., Dave and the Boards have done all in their power to prevent churches from leaving - lying, slander, misinformation, etc.  In the past fifteen months, they’ve used all the resources of Sovereign Grace Ministries to do damage control.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent and tens of thousands of work hours expended.  Yet, all their attempts at damage control have not been able to control all the damage. 

Psalm 9:7-10

The Lord reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.  He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.  The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.      

"So we want you to know that whatever decision points we come to, we will make those decisions as Rich just reminded us from our polity paper, through the elders with the congregation.  We are going to do this together.  We want to do this with you and wherever we are in the polity process and if we don’t have governing documents changed at that point, it doesn’t matter.  We are going to do this through the elders with the congregation.  This is a really big decision and we are going to make this decision together."

“Through the elders with the congregation.”  That is what pastors throughout SGM hoped would develop with SGM.  Decisions made “through the SGM leadership team with the SGM pastors.”  But there is no “with the SGM pastors” so long as C.J. is President and John is Chairman.  The Board of Directors and the Leadership Team are not going to make decisions together with the SGM pastors.  Despite many appeals for collaboration from the SGM pastors, all decisions have been made independently and autonomously of the pastors.  If the Board approves an independent form of extra local government maybe they’re thinking of themselves and not the individual churches.  That’s a joke folks.     

"When will decision time be?  We can’t give you a date tonight but I can say we plan to bring you a proposal for our future as soon as we’ve sorted out the necessary steps.  And as you can imagine, this is a big and somewhat complicated decision and there are a number of steps to sort out."

They may wait until after the Pastors Conference in Orlando on Oct 30-Nov 1.

"In all this let’s not forget the most important person, the Lord.  What’s he up to in all of this?"

That is not a question C.J. and those around him are willing to face.  Revelation 2-3 gives us some idea how Jesus feels about SGM.  There are many similarities between it and several of the seven churches evaluated by Jesus.  C.J., the Leadership Team, and the Boards of Directors have never been examined by men.  They have been examined by the Lord and now he is bringing divine consequences upon them.  

"Eph 3:20-21 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  

"That’s his agenda and may it be accomplished with great fervency in us and through us to the praise of his glorious grace.  Amen."

I give praise to God for the new association of churches the Lord will raise up.  It makes my heart glad.  Not the dissolution of SGM – that makes me sad.  But the calling together of men with discernment who have seen the need for radical reform.  Men who are endeavoring to turn from past sins.   Men who are endeavoring to pursue humility, honesty, and accountability.  Men who are willing to die to the love of reputation and suffer for the sake of righteousness.    

May the Sovereign Lord “do far more abundantly” then anything they could request or imagine by the power of the Holy Spirit who works his holiness and supplies his gifts.  Praise be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

[1] Covey, Stephen M.R. The Speed of Trust – The One Thing That Changes Everything.  New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2006.


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