Hyper-authoritarianism and spiritual abuse are HOT BUTTON issues here at TWW, as our loyal readers know. There has been a definite shift in this direction in recent years, and we are diligent to keep you informed of what we consider to be a dangerous trend.
We were STUNNED by the reports coming out of purported members of KingsWay Community Church in recent weeks, as we’re sure you will be. KingsWay belongs to a “family of churches” called Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). The church reportedly held a “family meeting” last month, and after a long ten years, the truth, according to some, was finally revealed…
Here are two summaries of the travesty that occurred. Once again we turn to sgmsurvivors.com and sgmrefuge.com to provide their perspective of these meetings.
“Ten years ago we were Southside Church of Richmond. GE was senior pastor, Steve was the Assistant Pastor/Worship Leader and Aaron was the intern, fresh out of PC. We were in process of planting a church in Roanoke. It was somewhat an adoption of a group that had split from another church, but that is another story. Steve had a heart for the group and Gene felt that Steve should become their Pastor. “B” concurred. The only problem is that Steve did not feel that calling in his heart.
G and B said he had “unbelief” and to push through. Steve tried to and went on to Roanoke. He essentially had a nervous breakdown just a few months in and was pulled back. GE told the church that Steve was found to be in the sin of unbelief and was fired. The unbelievable thing is that Steve came back to Richmond and back to Southside. He found comfort and fellowship in a few friends…the few that did not shun him. He also was concerned that the true story of what happened to him was not being told and that the rendition that was being expressed was a fabrication. Steve appealed to B that the truth be told, but he was given a gag order by B, that he was not to tell anyone his side of the story. He appealed to Bt many time to lift the gag order and B told him no. He did tell his friend who appealed to GE to no avail. It was not until the past year after Brent leaving, that Steve no longer under the gag order and after a year of meetings with Steve, Bob, the pastors and a couple of other men, that G relented and allowed Steve to tell his story. That brought us to this FN mtg.”
“About ten years ago, KingsWay’s leadership was considering a church plant to Roanoke. Through seeming confirmations from lots of sources, it became clear to everyone involved that SW, one of the KingsWay pastors, seemed to be the man called to lead this church plant. While SW had a heart for that church (as they say), he himself did not feel a calling to be its pastor. However, because of the “distrust your heart” culture that is fundamental to KingsWay (and all of SGM, although they didn’t say that), he believed for quite a while that he was mistaken about his own feelings, and that he really was called but struggled with unbelief. The other pastors first suggested to him that he was dealing with unbelief on a pastors retreat.
To make a long story short SW went to Roanoke without having peace about it in his heart, because everyone around him including his fellow pastors were convinced that he was called to go. Not too long afterwards, however, it became clear to him that he simply could not continue pastoring that church. The aggressive deep-digging in his own heart for a sin that wasn’t there took a very damaging toll on him, and he still didn’t feel like he should be there at all, so he stepped down from the leadership in Roanoke and returned to Richmond with his family. Before they resumed attending KingsWay, however, GE called a “family meeting” to give the congregation the Official Story on what had happened. He said that SW had been removed from leadership in Roanoke because of major unresolved and unrepentant pride, selfishness and unbelief. Additionally, he had been defrocked as a KingsWay pastor over these same “unrepentant sins”. The congregation was largely turned against SW in a very damaging way.
Furthermore, the true story of what had happened was kept a secret. Nobody knew SW’s side of the story except for himself, his wife, some (but not all) of his children, Gene, and one friend that SW had told against GE’s wishes. Not even the rest of the KingsWay pastors knew SW’s side of the story. For nine years, SW and his family were treated very poorly by many of the members of KingsWay, due to what GE had said about him at that family meeting. SW described the treatment he, his wife and daughter received from KW members as “cruelty.” SW and the one friend he’d taken into confidence repeatedly requested truth, openness and a fair hearing from Gene, but Gene did not do anything or seek out SW in any way. He did continue to forbid SW from telling anyone what had happened.
At the meeting at KingsWay the other night, GE acknowledged that all of the above had taken place and confessed his own sin in the matter. He said that in the past year he’d become reconciled with SW and realized the levels to which he’d hurt SW and his family, and been wrong about God’s call on his life. There was no mention of how the reconciliation had taken place or why this meeting was being called. Gene and the other pastors were conspicuously silent about what had happened to end this nine-year gag order on SW.”
Our hearts are breaking for the pastor (and his family) put under a GAG ORDER, as well as for the KingsWay congregation. Clearly, the senior pastor didn’t follow “The King’s Way”.
In response to the KingsWay post over at SGM Survivors, commenters have complained that shenanigans like this go on all the time in SGM. Pastors have been mysteriously “de-gifted” throughout this “family of churches” for years… Sorry folks, that’s NOT the KING’S WAY!!!
Nickname made the following remark on SGM Survivors on August 19, 2010 (#32):
“I believe many of us understand SW’s dilemma. People who’ve been abused often think it’s their own fault – and no matter how much it hurts and even with head knowledge that the abuse is wrong, somehow they think they had it coming – even on a subconscious level. Battered wife syndrome. Many of us dept our SGM experiences quiet for a long time because we couldn’t bear to somehow sully the name of the church or the pastors – and we thought that everybody fouls up sometime and they deserved a pass. But the fact of the matter is that abusive behavior sullies the name of the abuser anyway. And where the church is concerned – the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
How many of us stood in silence, smiling through the tears, thinking it was the better part of valor to be discreet? We’d been trained to stoically accept any kind of behavior on the part of the leaders because they were God’s chosen, and we were so badly wanted them to pat us on the head and pronounce is good little children so we could earn another merit badge.
Sadly, I’m not sure that the leadership ever saw their coercion of SW as a problem, so they were blind to their sin of lying. I imagine they thought they were well willing their “authority” to command him to go (to start the Roanoke church plant) – and possibly saw his difficulties there as purely his own fault for having (gag) pride, unbelief, lack of faith, etc. They probably didn’t think they lied.
I don’t mean to speculate on Steve’s feelings or actions – I’m just saying that many of us were in a similar boat. I imagine that those who had strong family ties and friendships outside SGM were able to break free sooner than those who’s only real relationships were in SGM.”
One of the most insightful comments in the KingsWay thread was written by Irv a former leader in Sovereign Grace Ministries. Here’s the SGM background he provided on August 21, 2010 (#50):
“I believe I have a working understanding of how and why the SW situation could happen and why it is probably happening in many (or all) of the SGM churches today.
When we come to the Lord we want to serve God with everything in us and we want to be pleasing to Him in all things. There is a thirst and hunger for righteousness and we want to obey Jesus with all of our hearts and our minds as the result of Christ in us. There is also an inner disposition to trust and obey Church or spiritual leaders who are supposedly mature in the things of the Lord. We trust them to help us grow in our knowledge of Christ and His purpose for our lives. So it is quite natural in Christ to submit to spiritual leadership.
In the early days, there were two strong influences in PDI in the early 80s that still have a great influence in SGM, their polity and their exercise of spiritual authority. The first was the great influence in our lives of men like Charles Simpson, Derek Prince, Ern Baxter, Bob Mumford, Watchman Nee, Charles Schmitt and others. These were amazing men who had great impact in our lives. Through these men we somehow believed and established in our minds and practice that leadership was synonymous with authority – “God’s authority.” The devastating application was the understanding or belief that obeying the pastor or spiritual authority in a person’s life was equal to obeying the Lord Jesus Himself.
The second was the influence of Terry Virgo, Arthur Wallace, Tony Morton, Bryn Jones and others in the UK who brought the “Restoration of the Church” movement to us. The result of their influence was the centrality of the local church in the believer’s life as equal or even above the centrality of Jesus Christ in our lives. Now I would say without any doubt no leader in SGM would acknowledge that the church is more important that Jesus Christ – but I would challenge them to examine their own fruit, teaching and methodologies. This really demands so much more explanation than what I have written but I will resist at this time.
These two great influences made the local church and God’s authority in the local churches the most important aspects in a Christian’s life. It was so bad that we taught people that placement in the local church was the most important aspect of our lives. If a promotion in your secular work would take you out of ‘the local church’ defined as a PDI church, then we strongly urged people to not accept the promotion even to the point of sin if you took the promotion or job. I could use many other examples but for the sake of the reader I will let it rest.
We all believed it and we all lived by it. So to lie or cover up sin for the sake of the local church somehow made sense (perverted as it sounds). To protect the local church and His government was paramount even if it was to our own personal destruction. So I get how SW would allow the deception and lies to go on for years because it was about protecting the local church and His authority of the church.
When I resigned my church, I willingly lied to the congregation. SS convinced me to confess personal sin as my reason for resigning for the sake of the church when in fact my resignation had to do with my separation from PDI of their mission, doctrine and methodologies, not my personal sin.
SS threatened Mrs. Irv and I that if we didn’t submit to the authority of the church and the church failed the onus would be on me and my family. There is no question that my failure and sin was submitting myself to this demonic control and manipulation in my life which resulted in lying to the church and letting them get away with this stuff.
I don’t condone what I did not do I condone what SW has done in letting these men get away with this diabolical behavior. But I understand how and why it happened and why these things continue to happen in SGM.”
Irv, thank you for your heart-wrenching honesty about this abusive “family of churches”. SGM Single, who joined PDI in its early days, responded to Irv as follows:
“I was in a church in the “Shepherding Movement” under Charles Simpson in the late 1970s and early 80s, and after that church fell apart I immediately joined an SGM church. Yes, the Shepherding Movement definitely taught that “breaking covenant” with a church by “not leaving well” was a sin as serious as “breaking covenant” with a spouse by committing adultery. “Gossiping” about private church matters was considered just as serious as making private hurtful family matters public.
I remember the Scriptural justifications for this as taught by the “Fort Lauderdale 5” leaders of the Shepherding Movement. They said that Jesus established His covenant with His disciples and the entire church by sharing the Last Supper. This communion was to be continued until Jesus returned again. In Jewish culture at the time sharing a meal together was a symbol of a binding covenant just like exchanging rings in a wedding. In the same way that a wedding is not only a commitment under God to marriage in general but to your spouse in particular, sharing the bread and grape juice in communion is not only a commitment under God to the Church as a whole, but also to you LOCAL CHURCH in particular. Judas was given as a example of what happens when you “break covenant” with those in your local church who have shared communion with you. So it was implied that anyone who left a local church and spoke evil of it would end up like Judas.
I never personally heard the SGM leaders directly state these teachings the way the Shepherding Movement leaders did, but I suspect the SGM leaders were influenced by the teachings of these men. Many, many Shepherding Movement catch phrases from this teaching in particular have been adopted by SGM, so it is a reasonable guess that SGM leaders believe the ideas even though they may not openly teach them.”
If you feel so inclined, please read the other comments on the KingsWay debacle over at SGM Survivors. Our prayers go out to SW and his family as they attempt to move forward with their lives.
As we wrap up today’s post, here’s the MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION.
Where’s the GOLDEN BOY of the Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement? You know, the highly touted idol who travels coast to coast speaking at all the BIG conferences — SBC Pastors Conference, T4G, Resolved, Next, SGM Pastors Conference, and of course the upcoming Gospel Coalition Conference. I’m sure I have left some out…
Anyone seen MIA C.J. Mahaney lately? It appears he’s sending out his boys like Dave Harvey to do his dirty work. But that’s not all… SGM has once again enlisted those outside the “family” to do “damage control”. Tune in tomorrow for another installment on this ludicrous situation at KingsWay.