SGM – Just “Business” As Usual

Pride meets covetousness, and compliments it as wise, thrifty, and prudent. Charles Spurgeon


Well folks, based on Dave Harvey’s update, it appears to be just “business as usual” in SGM land. While I sit here wondering what it’s going to take for God to get the attention of the powers that be in Sovereign Grace Ministries, Harvey proclaims in his latest post that “God [is] at work!”

Just what does Harvey claim God is doing in SGM? Let’s take a look… (Notice how the items are prioritized.)

“1. Our incoming Pastors College class, the largest ever for us, has begun to arrive…”

Oh joy! Just what SGM needs – more hyper-authoritarian clones. Why does Harvey list the Pastors College first? What about the loyal SGMers who have been lorded over for years and who have sacrificially given of their time, talent, and treasure to their church? Largest ever class? Why is this important? Because SGM’s primary goal is church planting? The shrinking congregations certainly don’t need additional pastors. And remember, there was no Pastors College last year, which has likely had an impact on this year’s attendance numbers.

“2. In just a few weeks we get to host   1,700+ attendees for our WorshipGod conference.”

If there’s one thing SGM has excelled at it’s conferences! Just look how successful they are with their 1,700+ anticipated attendees. I’d be curious to know how many signed up are SGMers. How much will it cost? While the registration fees for what is essentially a three-day conference are offered at reduced rates in the months leading up to the conference, those signing up between June 1 and July 31 will pay as follows: (link) 

Students (college and below) – $140
Groups (5 or more) – $170
Individuals – $200

Remember, the registration fee does not include transportation, lodging, and breakfast and dinner meals; however, two lunches and snacks will be provided. The conference is being held at Covenant Life Church, so this is definitely a moneymaker for SGM.

“3. The two review panels we mentioned last week are now established. Three church leaders outside of SGM are generously giving their time to serve as the preliminary panel, and we expect them to publish their evaluations early next month. Ambassadors of Reconciliation, a ministry that primarily serves Lutheran churches, will be our second and more in-depth panel. We are eager to learn from the evaluation they give us, and we will share their findings online too.”

I find it quite interesting that this item is not listed first. Some have called into question how biblical it is that the three church leaders on the preliminary panel are outside of SGM, were probably selected by the SGM Board, and are currently anonymous. That doesn’t sit well with quite a few SGMers.

There has also been some concern about Ambassadors of Reconciliation (AoR) which has some significant ties to Peacemaker Ministries (headed by C.J. Mahaney’s close buddy Ken Sande).

Take a look at the bio of one of AoR’s board members (link):

“David D. Schlachter serves as a Vice President for Peacemaker Ministries, overseeing the delivery of mediation and arbitration services for the resolution of conflicts and disputes, and the delivery of conciliator training provided by Peacemaker Ministries, including foundational training for conciliators and advanced training through the Certification Program. A Certified Christian Conciliator™ and University of Denver Law School graduate, David practiced law for 26 years in Denver, Colorado, specializing in business, real estate, and commercial litigation, before joining the Peacemaker Ministries staff. He has taught biblical peacemaking in his church, for Peacemaker Ministries, and internationally in Cambodia and Tanzania. David has served as a mediator and arbitrator in numerous cases through Peacemaker Ministries, and has served on numerous Boards of Directors for other non-profit organizations and ministries.”

Regarding the AoR staff’s training, here is what the website states:

“All our staff conciliators have earned and maintain status as Certified Christian Conciliators™ through the Institute for Christian Conciliation, a division of Peacemaker® Ministries.”

And one of the AoR conciliators listed on the AoR staff is an adjunct instructor for Peacemaker Ministries. Take a look at:

“Rev. Ed Keinath serves as Director of CrossLife Ministries, the counseling center of Ambassadors of Reconciliation in Seymour, Indiana. With an extensive background in marriage and family counseling, Ed’s work includes counseling, parenting education seminars, and grief support groups. He provides consulting to numerous church professionals, church lay leaders, Lutheran school faculty, and their families. He has served as a reconciler for the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and presently serves on the Commission on Ministerial Health of the Indiana District. Ed's experience includes working with conflicted churches, church schools, and other related groups, and he serves as a mentor and an adjunct instructor for Peacemaker Ministries…”

I don’t know about you, but these ties between Peacemaker Ministries and the Ambassadors of Reconciliation are highly disturbing!  Just how objective will AoR be?

“4. Plans for a church plant in Miami, Florida, were recently approved…”

Why is Sovereign Grace Ministries making ANY announcements regarding church planting when this “family of churches” is facing a crisis of monumental proportions? Where is the SGM Board’s true focus? They should be redoubling their efforts to address the serious issues that threaten the future viability of the ministry.

“5. Next week, the expanded SGM board gets to gather in person for the first time. We have a three-day retreat starting on Tuesday that we’re praying God will use in a mighty way for the benefit of Sovereign Grace churches.”

I guess the three-day retreat began yesterday and is now in progress. My prayer for the SGM Board is that Almighty God will convict the hearts of these men to see their organization through the congregants’ eyes. I was absolutely stunned that Dave Harvey delivered a sermon at KingsWay not too long ago informing the members that if they didn’t like the polity they could leave. Such compassion from the guy who is now perched atop the SGM pyramid.

The SGM Board is in a tenuous position, and I believe their actions will determine the fate of this “family of churches”. Now that SGM is finally allowing comments on its website, there have been some outspoken commenters who are challenging the status quo. Yesterday, Diane Kummer left this comment under the “God at work” post:

“The Sunday night meetings at CLC have been helpful to many. People asking hard questions and the pastors listening to our concerns. I would like to suggest that the SGM board make itself available to answer questions at an open forum. Would the SGM board consider doing this? Starting at an open forum at CLC? Many questions from the CLC Sunday night meetings were answered with "that would be for the SGM board to decide." I am sure many people would like the opportunity to pose questions to the SGM board.  As a long time member of CLC, I am having trouble right now trusting the SGM board. If the board could make itself available in an open forum to answer questions, it would go a long way.  Andrew, thank you for answering these questions to the best of your ability. Would it be possible for SGM board members to take turns answering the blog questions? The board members would probably be in a better position to answer some of these questions since you may not be privy to some of the information needed to answer them.”

As I am finishing up my writing, Diane’s comment is still the “most recent” under Harvey’s current post. That means no one has weighed in on the “God at work!” post in a day. Andrew, the SGM blog spokesman, responded this afternoon with these words:

“Diane, thanks for asking your question. I’ve been trying to think of a way to let readers ask and vote on a few top questions they’d like the board to answer, with the idea being that I’d take those to the board and see if some could get direct answers. I don’t think we’d be able to do the live version because they’re spread out all over the country, but perhaps the electronic version could work. We’ll post about it on the blog if we organize something like that.”

Shayne McAllister, who is a curious onlooker outside the SGM “family of churches” weighed in with these words:

“As someone who has spent a good deal of time listening to sermons, reading concerns and charges, my instinct is that SGM, as a church oversight organization, should cease to exist. Let churches be more independent as congregations. I know that technically SGM doesn't hold authority over churches, in practice it seems to via the board and claims of apostolic authority. I'm a committed congregationalist. I hope Mark Dever, also a committed congregationalist and dear friend of CJ, will persuade leadership of the wisdom of truly congregational polity. Come on in, the water's great.”

Andrew responded to Shayne in this way:

“Shayne, thanks for adding your thoughts to the mix. It’s helpful getting outsiders’ perspectives on all of this. I doubt we’ll be joining you in the waters of congregationalism anytime soon (thanks for the invite), but in the not-so-distant future we should at least be more clear with everyone about how our polity actually works.”

When I read Andrew’ response, obviously on behalf of the SGM “Board”, here’s what came to mind: “When we want your opinion, we’ll give it to you. It certainly appears at this early stage of the process that congregationalism is out of the question.

MikePhila chimed in with this comment:

“I hope the SGM board realizes that myself and a number of others are solely waiting to hear the results of all of the findings to determine whether or not we will be leaving our SGM church. In light of the serious issues that are happening right now in SGM I am somewhat surprised (but not really because the Board does not realize the extent of damage that they've caused) that they are having another Pastor College class start. The same college that has spit out some pretty bad pastors that have caused tremendous hurt in the body of Christ! Why not wait until these SERIOUS issues are RESOLVED before continuing down the same ruinous path that needs MASSIVE change???!!!”

I want to conclude with Nathan’s comment, which highlights the intent of this post – “to bring an observation” that it’s business as usual in Sovereign Grace Ministries. This is what Nathan had to say:

“It's nice to know that business as usual continues at Sovereign Grace Ministries when many, if not most, of the people in your member churches are far more concerned about whether you (Dave) or CJ are even qualified to continue in your positions of leadership than we are in a record number of enrollees at the Pastors College or the upcoming worship conference.

I'm really concerned that you just don't get it. But this too God will make clear, hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Rest assured that Our Sovereign God will have His way with Sovereign Grace Ministries….  

Lydia’s Corner:       1 Kings 2:1-3:2        Acts 5:1-42        Psalm 125:1-5        Proverbs 16:25


SGM – Just “Business” As Usual — 27 Comments

  1. Has anyone ever seen a governing body in a hierarchical denomination or “group of churches” vote itself out of existence and so release the churches to be entirely congregational in governance? (Answer is identical to: When has Hell frozen over?)

    People in the churches need to vote themselves out of SGM as a hierarchical entity and elect their own leadership. Boot that abusive pastors and make it clear that the laity (people of God) are the church and the staff, including pastor(s) are servants (basically employees) of the laity.

  2. Deb

    YAWN!!! It is so boringly and predictably the same. No congregational waters means “Now don’t you lowly members go getting all uppity on us, ya hear? We were, are and forever more shall be in charge and if we have anything to do about it, we WILL find a doctrine that says we will be in charge in eternity.

  3. Ok, lets see if I can translate this. Just like any corporation dealing with a scandal they come out with sky high positive news.

    Look! we have increased our soap sales! Please keep buying stock. No, in fact, you are missing out if you do not buy stock now. We are posed for a huge comeback. Some really smart guys from big Wall Street firms are coming in to do an eval of how we can improve. You will love their report.

    And even though our CEO is taking time out to contemplate the events of the last month, he will be here when we have a huge roll out of brand new soap line! He is so excited, he says our future is so bright, we will have to wear sunglasses.-

    We STILL want to hear from you so please call this number 877-IAM-DUMB and leave your comments after the recorded message. The board is listening…and your opinions are very important to us.

  4. There are 17 students in the 2010 Pastors College photo.
    This incoming group is the largest ever,
    The Pastors College page says SGM usually get 15-25 students per year.
    SGM is planning to churn out more unqualified men.
    That’s insane – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

    Perhaps in the gripping of control the board doesn’t want different results and insanity is just fine with them.

    Why is the guy in charge of this SGM division (Dean Jeff Purswell) academically trained himself, yet willing to churn out none educated, none accredited men who wind up doing SGM church plants etc?

    SGM is worse than many of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches with their diploma mills and none accredited pastor training.

    10 months and an internship?

    Why do SGM members accept this appalling lack of education and experience? I don’t understand why this is acceptable to members.

  5. Hi Bene D,

    When SGM was charismatic, it was easier for members to go along with the idea that CJ was a uniquely gifted individual (an apostle no less), and they understood his path prior to his conversion didn’t take him to college.

    But people were willing to follow him because they wanted to follow Jesus and believed that PDI/SGM was the context where that could be effectively lived out. And in some cases it was. But as things changed, it became apparent that all of CJ’s boasting about how great the church was and all the guys that worked for him made it seem like what he was doing was better than anybody else’s profession. Maybe one of the reasons why CJ chose Josh Harris is because Josh shared CJ’s belief that having a college degree wasn’t necessary. Josh used to joke about how it was something he just “forgot to do.” In other words, why go to college when you’ve become a success without that? It was like a badge of honor.

    Yet, there the church was planted, right smack dab in the middle of a community that was comprised of college educated white-collar workers. And that’s where SGM sends out this under-educated and under-trained Pastor’s College graduates.

    Why doesn’t Jeff Purswell do anything to change that? Because not having his degree is something CJ seems pretty proud of and it’s part of SGM’s leadership culture. It’s more important to be “gifted” than it is to be educated. That’s the key to great leadership.

    But of course in order for these gifted leaders to enjoy a nice lifestyle, SGM plants churches in white-collar communities. Not a bad deal, especially when the members are strongly discouraged from doing anything that would cause any hardship for the pastors. “That would be unprofitable for you” says CJ Mahaney (i.e. you would be encouraged to go elsewhere)

  6. Arce, what you wrote is the only solution. I agree with you. If people want to remain in SGM and see change, they need to STOP looking to the leadership.

    One of the disturbing trends I have observed that gets on my nerves is the reaction by SGM members, survivors and commentators alike which presupposes the power for change rests with those in leadership. SGM leaders ask for prayer and people sympathetically cry “Let’s focus our prayers on them!” while, as Deb points out in her excellent post, business goes on as usual. People need to pray for the courage to leave or throw the bums out!

    “The pastors are servants (employees) of the laity.” Amen

    SGM leadership has it exactly backwards. They teach the laity to serve the leadership.

  7. Pingback: The beat goes on … | Civil Commotion

  8. I saw it again and again while at the sgm church I attended.1)Congregants go to the leaders to express their concerns.2)Their leaders tell them what they want to hear.3)Church member has hope things will change.4)Nothing ever changes.5)Congregants go to the leaders for change.6)The leaders tell them what they want to they want to hear.7)Church member has hope things will change…..and on and on.You get the point.Come on people…….get off the merry-go-round.

  9. Lin,

    Love your comparison to a troubled corporation. And the phone number was great! I’m convinced that nothing in SGM will EVER change.

  10. seeking truth,

    Thanks for explaining the process that has kept SGMers on the merry-go-round for so long. I am very cynical that change will ever occur with the entrenched leadership “in charge”.

  11. What Arce wrote is so important that it bears repeating. Here it is:

    “People in the churches need to vote themselves out of SGM as a hierarchical entity and elect their own leadership. Boot that abusive pastors and make it clear that the laity (people of God) are the church and the staff, including pastor(s) are servants (basically employees) of the laity.”

    Let him who has an ear hear…

  12. Evie,

    Just want you to know how much I appreciate your comments. You add such a great perspective to the discussion.

    Blessings to you!

  13. Bene D,

    Thanks for your insights on the Pastors College.

    As you so rightly said: “SGM is planning to churn out more unqualified men.”

    I am absolutely disgusted with this cloning process! SGM is reaping what it has sown.

  14. Hi Deb,

    Thank you! And your post about “business” as usual is “right on the money!” 😀

  15. “Why do SGM members accept this appalling lack of education and experience? I don’t understand why this is acceptable to members”

    And why do they accept SGM’s and Mahaney’s large donations to an SBC seminary instead of to their own pastors college if they so believe in it? That information is now known.

  16. “Why doesn’t Jeff Purswell do anything to change that? Because not having his degree is something CJ seems pretty proud of and it’s part of SGM’s leadership culture. It’s more important to be “gifted” than it is to be educated. That’s the key to great leadership.”

    Actually, what confuses me even more is why the Reformed big dogs accept this from SGM. Even affirming it in many ways. They are very committed to seminary education yet give SGM a pass and their affirmation. In 99% of SBC churches, even small ones, an SGM trained pastor would not qualify. That is how much a seminary education is valued in SBC circles. You can be hired without an MDiv or higher but you had better be working on one.

    Which is why CJ and SGM giving a large donation to SBTS is so very funny when you look at the big picture. SGM basically was built on eschewing serious sholarship in theology. (Not that the SBC seminaries have serious scholarship anymore. They don’t)

  17. “One of the disturbing trends I have observed that gets on my nerves is the reaction by SGM members, survivors and commentators alike which presupposes the power for change rests with those in leadership. SGM leaders ask for prayer and people sympathetically cry “Let’s focus our prayers on them!” while, as Deb points out in her excellent post, business goes on as usual. People need to pray for the courage to leave or throw the bums out”

    Evie, you are right on target. This is one reason why I cannot stand to read over at survivors anymore at all. I spoke with a dear friend who deals in cults about this and she said I am seeing the deep effects of the brainwashing. they STILL look to the leadership to change and become leaders who act like Christians!

    There is a concept running through the comments that is so stepford like, it scares me to death. It goes like this: We must love the wolves. Pray the wolves open their eyes. Look, the wolf threw out a bone of contrition! There is hope for them to actually act like believers!

    I have this visual picture of the sgm survivors in a camp with all their children praying the wolves will stop being wolves. Instead of protecting each other and the children from the wolves, they think the Christian way is to pray the wolves stop being wolves. I say this because the wolves were forced to shed their sheep masks. They have proof they are wolves but refuse to believe it.

    Their time should be spent not on trying to get the wolves to stop being wolves, they they should act like shepherds protecting the people in the camp and cautioning them about feeding the wolves.
    This is how deep the brainwashing of the people at SGM is.

    It is OK to not be nice to wolves. In fact, one should flee from them to the arms of their TRUE Savior. Wolves “practice sin” and they make merchandise of the Gospel for their own benefit. Why anyone would want to enable that, is beyond me.

    I think we are seeing why SGM will be around for a long time. The people want it to be. Even many of the ex members. Even if they don’t know it.

  18. Lin,


    While reading your post I was reminded of a scene in CS Lewis’ “The Last Battle” in which the Dwarves are sitting together in the bright sunshine, and others are offering them wonderful, fresh food.

    Despite the availability of good food and being out in the open, the Dwarves staunchly believe they are huddled together in a shack, and the food made available is nothing more than spoiled cabbage.

    Others attempt telling them over and over that they are free and they can walk about and enjoy the light and the good food but no. They refuse to budge because they are blinded by their unbelief. Instead they choose to stick together, distrust others, and proudly proclaim, “The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!”

    And I’m with you on they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. As another poster observed, SGM leaders hold out hope and people are conditioned to anticipate change, but the change never comes.

    There’s nothing Christ-like about falling into the same trap over and over. I trust peoples eyes will be opened and they will follow the Good Shepherd to safe pasture!

  19. Evie

    I knew I liked you. The Last Battle is one of my favorite books. Remember the comment about that barn by one of the children or was it Aslan who said-The biggest thing your world has ever seen started in a stable? All the dwarves saw was darkness and dung and didn’t see the beauty of the new Narnia.

  20. I posted this on SGM Survivors about this announcement.

    People expressed shock at Harvey’s latest blog entry indicating the pastors’ college had their biggest enrollment yet this year. I wonder if this is an indication of being on Stage 4 of the list below.


    These are the stages of a company’s demise that Jim Collins wrote in his book “How the Mighty Fall.”

    Just a thought.

    Rather than face the possibility that there are serious problems and changes need to be made, SGM Leaders are denying the possibility of any risk or peril. It is like they are saying our leader might have sinned and a few problems but there isn’t even a possibility that SGM will fall apart.

    Why address issues and admit there are problems when it is easier to deny.

  21. Dee, I love finding kindred spirits!

    I do remember that quote from the “Last Battle.”

    Another example of the way CS Lewis makes you pause and reflect. And I’ve always been a big fan of the Chronicles of Narnia. I watched in horror when years ago the BBC made the books into movies and Aslan sounded so creepy and like he was speaking with his last, dying breath ol

    We’re so good at creating evil, bad guys but not so good with authentic awe-inspiring heroes. It’s like the paintings of Jesus standing there all aloof, three-fingers raised, halo around his head, and a big-long face. Like, who would be interested in following that guy? He looks like he needs some personality!

    Sorry, went on a bit of a rabbit trail there!

  22. @ Mara: y’know, the BBC versions of the Lewis books are my favorites, even with the kinda creepy puppet Aslan. They’re much truer to the books than any other version I’ve seen, and I like the cast.

    Somehow, I don’t think Lewis was thinking about large-scale scenes (battle scenes especially) when he wrote these books. They’re “small” in a way that Hollywood doesn’t understand but British TV does.

  23. Numo I should say I enjoyed the BBC movies, too, as long as Aslan didn’t make an appearance too much lol. I thought The Silver Chair was especially good. Lucy seemed a little too peevish for me, but the other children were well cast – especially Edmund.