You do not lead by hitting people over the head. That's assault, not leadership. Dwight D. Eisenhower
I was planning on doing a series on how the church views psychological counseling after receiving two very interesting emails, back to back, on the subject from two unconnected people. However, once again, events at SGM intrude and demand coverage as the events seem to be unfolding at a rapid pace. So, I will do the series on counseling after we cover this evolving story.
I believe that the SGM turmoil is a lesson for the evangelical church. For years, complaints have been rife on the blogosphere of people who have been deeply wounded by churches within this sphere. Well, not necessarily wounded by the church members but by the church "leadership." Recently, a couple of SGM pastors have admitted that a few of these stories are, in essence, true. These stories include accounts of child molestation and a less than supportive response on the part of church leadership.
Unfortunately there appears to be a culture in which pastors are considered to be the sole arbiters of "correct" Christian behavior. If the myriad of reports are to be believed, there seems to be years of missteps in which many people have been deeply wounded by an all powerful clergy which have become quite adept at sidestepping their failures while placing the onus of "sin"on the membership.
However, I hasten to add that these problems are not endemic to the SGM culture and, in fact, are part of all churches which stress an authoritarian leadership structure. At the beginning of this debacle, none other than the SBC's Albert Mohler weighed in, leading to questions as to why the head of the leading SBC seminary would feel the need to comment. I believe the reason for this runs far deeper than Mahaney's monetary contributions to the seminary and his friendship with Mohler. I believe it is based in the growing movement amongst those we, at TWW, would deem Calvinistas. These adherents would appear to assert a tightly controlled leadership which centralizes power in the hands of pastors who have been specifically anointed, as in the patriarchs of old.
To prove my point, here is a quote from Peter Smith's article in the Courier Journal. LINK
"Mohler added: "Any time you’re going to take on the role of leadership, you’re going to have critics."
Mohler also supported Sovereign Grace’s highly centralized leadership structure in its churches, with "very strong pastoral direction" and internal discipline.
"It’s something clearly called for in the New Testament," he said.
Mohler said he knew this practice has had online critics for years.
"Basically there are people who are very uncomfortable with the strong kind of spiritual direction that comes through the Sovereign Grace Ministries," Mohler said. "It’s very hard to criticize it on biblical terms, as you’ll see on most of those Web sites. It basically comes down to the criticism, ‘I don’t like that.’"
I think that the following letters, which first posted on SGM Refuge under the leadership of "Johnny on the spot" Jim, are absolutely fascinating. I would be interested in how our readership evaluates the various statements, especially from CJ's sons in law. In fact, I would rather not comment because I am quite curious to see what our readers think.
Consider this like an MBA case study of this entity. Think about the power structure, the money, and the product. Especially concentrate how "consumers" might view this product.
It is my prayer that this debacle be viewed as a God given opportunity to reconsider how leadership is being practiced in some of today's churches. I also ask our readers to pray for all the people in SGM who are confused and hurting at this time. May God give them His peace that passes all understanding.
Dear Members of Covenant Life,
We (the pastors of Covenant Life) are writing you with heavy hearts. What follows are two separate letters—one from Brian Chesemore and one from Mike Bradshaw—announcing their decision to resign as pastors and withdraw their membership in our church.
We deeply love and respect both of these men, and this has been a difficult challenge. They are both Christ-exalting ministers of the gospel—hard-working and faithful—and we consider this a loss for our staff and for our church. More than that they are dear friends.
Both Mike and Brian informed us of their decision in letters a few weeks ago. Because of vacation schedules, we weren’t able to meet until last week. We hoped that we might convince them to change their minds. We spent two full days discussing extensively our differing points of view, talking together, asking questions, listening carefully to one another, and reviewing our disagreements (Proverbs 19:20). By God’s grace our discussions were marked by mutual love and affection that was peaceable, gentle and open to reason (James 3:17). We sought to soberly consider their concerns and learn from them. We also shared where we’ve recognized that we could have better led in the past month and voiced a desire to continue to examine ourselves.
As we discussed our points of disagreement, we shared with Mike and Brian that we didn’t believe that these issues warranted separation. We want a diversity of perspectives on our team. We asked them to reconsider the decision to resign. While we sincerely love these men and want to support them personally, we also expressed our disagreement with their decision to leave. We did not want them to leave at this time or in this way. We urged them—many times through tears—to stay and press through this difficult season in light of our shared gospel priorities and unity (Colossians 3:13).
Mike and Brian repeatedly communicated their appreciation for our counsel and concerns. We believe they truly listened to our perspective, but sadly we were not able to persuade them to stay.
Mike and Brian requested that they be able to write open letters to the congregation, and we wanted you to have the chance to hear their perspective. At the same time it is important for you to know that your pastors disagree with a number of issues raised in their letters. We have a different perspective on their assessment of the past few years and our relationship and view of Sovereign Grace. And we differ over how they characterize our leadership of the church since Brent’s documents were released. Most importantly, we don’t think that these issues rise to a level that necessitates a separation. That being said we know they are men of godly conviction and are acting in accordance with their consciences. We also recognize that in light of the unique family dynamics created by this situation, they’re seeking to do what they think is best for their families.
We want you to know that we’re glad to discuss any of these issues more fully with you. Please bring us your questions. Whether you agree or disagree with Brian and Mike, we welcome your thoughts and concerns. Ultimately, we believe the gospel is bigger than any of these issues and that we can walk in unity as we wrestle through them together (Ephesians 4:1-6).
As you know, through this trying time we’ve made some course corrections in our leadership. Though we’re imperfect and weak, we believe we are leading according to God’s Word and doing our best to be faithful pastors to you. We also recognize that we could be wrong in different areas and not realize it. Our commitment to you is that if in the future God shows us we’re wrong through his Word, your correction, or through the counsel of others, we will seek to humble ourselves, admit that to you, and make appropriate changes to how we are leading. Please pray that we would be both courageous as we lead but also humble and quick to admit our faults.
A word for parents. If your children have sat under Mike Bradshaw’s skillful leadership, the news that the beloved “Mr. B” will no longer be a pastor will no doubt be very difficult information for them to hear. Mike has made an incredible investment in their lives through his teaching on Sundays and at Summer Celebration. We’d encourage you to be thoughtful and prayerful in how you share this news with them. Set aside time for an unhurried conversation. Give them time to ask questions. Give them time to grieve. With our own children we’ve sought to share that sometimes Christians who love Jesus have different opinions. (Sharing the story of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15 might be a good introduction to the subject.) Tell them that what is most important is that we love Mr. B, and that Mr. B loves them, and we all love and want to serve Jesus.
Mike and Brian (along with their dear wives and children) are brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s remember that this isn’t changing. The gospel of Jesus Christ has brought us into relationship together, not our agreement on secondary issues. In light of Christ’s love we want to exhort you to continue to love Mike and Brian and their families. Don’t remove your love and affection toward them in any way. In situations like this where there is real disagreement or a change in relationship, we must still be guided by gospel priorities in light of Christ’s reconciling, atoning work on our behalf. We believe Colossians 3:12-15 is an appropriate place to direct our attention in this time:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts,
kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if
one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has
forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which
binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule
in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
This is not the first time Christians have agreed to disagree. And it won’t be the last. We thank God we agree on what matters most—the gospel of Jesus Christ. We love and respect these men and can commend their ministries to others. We pray that God will bless them in ministry and shower his grace on their lives. And we will always count them our friends and dear brothers. That will never change for us.
We will be holding a Members Meeting this Saturday, August 13, from 6-8 p.m. in the Auditorium. We would hold this sooner, but the WorshipGod conference this week (and a wedding on Sunday) make Saturday the only day that works. We hope you can join us.
Let’s continue to trust the Lord together. He is with us. “In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever” (Psalm 44:8).
For the Glory of Jesus,
A Letter From Mike Bradshaw
Dear Covenant Life Church Family,
It is with profound sadness that I write to inform you that I have resigned from my role as one of your pastors. Among the greatest joys and highest honors of my life has been to serve you and your children these past eight years (Philippians 1:3-5). I deeply love you and the pastoral team. So it is with a heavy heart, but a sincere desire to serve and care for each one of you and my family, and most of all to honor God, that I make this decision. Please know that this is not an emotional response or impulsive reaction but a careful conclusion I’ve come to through much prayer, deliberation and counsel.
My reason is simple: I can no longer, in good conscience, support the leadership of the pastoral team on key issues, in particular how they have led our church in addressing the accusations brought against C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.
I first received Brent Detwiler’s documents the afternoon of June 17th 2011, along with the entire pastoral team. Subsequently, we spent many hours discussing the accusations and seeking wisdom from above in order to best serve our church and the people involved (James 3:17). We were all saddened by these accusations. Josh Harris graciously took time to hear from each pastor, giving us the opportunity to voice questions and our varying perspectives during this most critical time. On multiple occasions I was able to express my perspective. I believed my voice, along with others, would be represented and honored at the member’s meetings. However, on the evening of July 10th it became clear that the questions I raised and perspective I brought had little impact on the direction Josh was taking in addressing these matters. When my subsequent appeals were ineffective in altering the course of the following members’ meetings, it became only more evident that I could not support the leadership of the pastoral team on these critical issues and therefore, must resign.
My primary reasons for resigning are as follows:
- * The failure to biblically process accusations brought against an elder at our July 10th Member’s Meeting, and subsequent meetings, as laid out in Scripture (1 Timothy 5:19-21, Proverbs 18:17, Deuteronomy 19:15-20, Proverbs 18:13, Proverbs 11:13).
- * The encouragement to read Brent’s documents and the blogs void of guidance and evaluation from the Scriptures; Josh’s specific encouragement for heads of households to read Brent’s documents to examine their desire to be a part of Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries – a statement that brought creditability to these slanderous documents (1 Peter 2:1, Leviticus 19:16, Proverbs 11:13, Proverbs 17:9, Proverbs 10:18, Exodus 20:16, Psalm 50:19-21, Ephesians 4:29-32).
- * I’m grateful that three weeks after making these statements Josh expressed his regret for not leading us to God’s Word in addressing these matters. However, much damage had already been done.
- * The failure to publicly and specifically confront gossip and slander among our congregation in a timely manner (2 Timothy 2:14-17, 1 Peter 5:2-3, Ephesians 4:30-31, Proverbs 6:16-19, Acts 20:29-31, Ephesians 4:1-6, 2 Timothy 2:24-26, James 3:1-13).
- * The misrepresentation of C.J. Mahaney’s character and growth in sanctification at the Members’ Meetings (2 Timothy 4:14-16, Matthew 12:36, James 3:1-13, Psalm 130:3-4, Philippians 3:12-17).
- * The concern that Josh’s statements regarding Sovereign Grace Ministries were imbalanced, unnecessarily critical, and illegitimately applied to all of Sovereign Grace. Additionally, there has been the absence of appropriate appreciation for the vast fruitfulness of this ministry and our thirty-year partnership in gospel-advancing work both here and abroad (Philippians 1:3-5, Philippians 4:15).
I do not question the motives of your pastors. I believe they truly want God’s best for Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries. They are men I respect and deeply love and am personally indebted to. They are my closest friends! However, I believe they have made serious errors at this most critical time that have led to significant consequences for our church. I am also concerned by the trajectory that these decisions, and the perspectives behind them, point to for our church. It is these factors that compel me to such decisive action.
I too want God’s best for Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries. I believe I can make no greater statement of my love for you than by making this painful decision.
As I have for the last eighteen years, you have my enduring commitment to pray for you and your pastors.
“And this is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11
With love and affection,
Michael Bradshaw (Mr. B)
A Letter from Brian Chesemore
Dear Pastors and Members of Covenant Life Church,
I love Covenant Life Church deeply and it broke my heart to recently arrive at the settled place where I believe it is necessary to write this letter of resignation. My hope is that what follows adequately explains the reasons for my transition from the pastoral team I have loved, served, and respected over these last eight years. Coming as this does in the midst of this challenging season, I realize that my decision may well seem sudden and surprising to some, and for that I am very sorry. This is not a decision I have come to quickly and lightly. I have sought to persevere through my concerns, “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-3). With this gospel-exhortation before me, I have made my decision prayerfully and soberly over the last year.
My reasons for resigning are twofold.
First, I have observed over the last two years an undeniably diminishing enthusiasm amongst members of our pastoral team for the partnership we share with Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Since 1991, I have had the privilege of attending and serving in three SGM churches. I am passionate about our family of churches and the doctrine, relationships, values, and mission that we share. Although we are in a difficult season as a relatively young movement, I believe God is continuing to guide and grow us in our gospel-mission. We may be hearing a tremendous amount of criticism right now, but because of grace there is a far greater display of gospel-fruitfulness in the churches of our movement.
I returned to Covenant Life in 2003 after a church plant in part because of this church’s strategic partnership with Sovereign Grace Ministries. But for the last two years I have had growing questions and concerns regarding our relationship with Sovereign Grace Ministries which I’ve expressed to Josh, the board of elders, and various members of our pastoral team.
Many discussions have led me to believe that the majority of our pastoral team seems to think there is little to learn from Sovereign Grace. Under our board’s leadership, we have spent far more time criticizing in matters of polity and mission than building up and partnering with SGM even though SGM has been in the laborious process of leading us in polity refinements for almost two years (Eph. 4:29; Neh. 4:1-20). And our trajectory has been a steady move away from Sovereign Grace, which deeply disappoints me. I’m not suggesting that Covenant Life won’t remain a SGM church. I pray and have a strong hope that it will. But I believe our church has minimized and neglected the privilege of our long-standing partnership with our friends in Sovereign Grace.
I would disagree with this direction and believe our partnership has been historically beneficial and should still be vital. We have the uncommon gift of a “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:5). We don’t exist in this partnership solely to reform it. It is meant to be mutually beneficial, and I believe we impoverish ourselves when we neglect or minimize the wisdom, experience, and relationships that reside in Sovereign Grace. To go further, I believe Covenant Life’s recent history reveals that we need more help from Sovereign Grace, not less.
I shared my concerns and perspective with the board numerous times and I believe they have faithfully listened. But these conversations did not produce the results I prayed for. Not wanting to react quickly, I chose to persevere in both prayer and appeals for greater appreciation and partnership with the Leadership Team and churches of SGM. However, my efforts failed to bring encouraging changes in this direction.
For twenty years I have had a passion to serve Sovereign Grace, our weaknesses not withstanding, but I don’t believe I can sufficiently fulfill that desire here at Covenant Life. My decision to resign is rooted in this reality.
I had hoped and planned for a transition much farther down the road, and in a manner that would cause the least amount of pain to people I love and would prefer to spend the rest of my life pastoring. However, the pastoral meetings and recent members’ meetings related to Brent Detwiler’s accusations have expedited this decision for me.
Which brings me to the second reason for my resignation: the failure of the pastoral team to lead in a biblical manner by providing a Scriptural framework through which to view Brent’s documents and the events that followed.
On July 10, 2011, Josh led our church into a season of publicly interpreting Brent’s documents and what he believed to be God’s perspective in these times. No doubt, the writing and release of these documents required a massive call for discerning and courageous leadership. While I believe Josh has only the best of motives, and wanted only to walk in truth and transparency, I think he failed to provide the essential biblical categories for interpreting these accusations and in so doing neglected his primary pastoral duty as a shepherd (2 Ti. 3:14-4:4). The alternatives to clear scriptural guidance have serious consequences. I believe the pastors neglected to biblically define Brent’s documents as accusations against an elder and as slanderous (1 Ti. 5:19-21). Instead, Josh expressed sympathy for the documents and encouraged heads of households to read Brent’s accusations to see if they would want to be a part of Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries.
I could not in good conscience exhort heads of households to read Brent’s documents and I am grateful that Josh later expressed regret for this recommendation. While the documents contain some truth about the sins which C.J. Mahaney has confessed, they also contain large amounts of sinful judgment, claiming even to understand C.J.’s motives (Matt. 7:1-5). They are unreasonable and entirely one-sided (James 3:17; Prv. 18:13, 17). And they should not have been considered without adequate due process in which C.J.’s side was heard. I appealed to this end, and the men heard my appeal, but did not agree.
Our team’s failure to demonstrate adequate impartiality and to bring clear and specific biblical guidelines gave credibility to Brent’s accusations and this has resulted in speculation, gossip, and even slander of C.J.’s character. For over thirty years C.J. has labored to serve faithfully as a pastor. He’s not perfect because he’s not Jesus. But he is a man who has walked with integrity and remains qualified as a minister of the gospel unless clearly shown otherwise through a biblically just process.
Because this didn’t happen, the pastors of our church failed to lead at a critical time. I believe this has had a detrimental effect on our local church, and that our example has had a detrimental effect on churches beyond Covenant Life. I love these men dearly, but for the sake of the gospel, I cannot continue to serve where I have a growing concern about our direction and our adherence to God’s Word when leaders receive accusation. I don’t want to feign unity. From my perspective these are matters that are closely tied to the work of the gospel. And though I love Covenant Life, I believe I’ve arrived at a Paul and Barnabas moment (Acts 15:36-41). I pray that our separation produces the fruit that these two men experienced in their latter years of ministry.
I understand that this letter presents my perspective and may not represent the view of other men on the pastoral team. But with sadness I must submit my resignation.
The pastors and members of Covenant Life will be the daily object of my prayers and gratefulness. I love my fellow pastors and I am indebted to them in more ways than I can name. And the privilege of caring for the dear members of Covenant Life has simply been, and will remain, one of the greatest privileges of my life.