"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."
Hebrews 13:8 (NASB)
Dee and I first learned about Sovereign Grace Ministries in the fall of 2008, and we are grateful to the SGM Survivors and Refugees who have spoken out against the hyper-authoritarian leadership and spiritual abuse they have experienced. From the hundreds of blog posts and thousands of comments we have read about SGM, we have heard a common refrain that characterizes this "family of churches". It is C.J. Mahaney's mantra – "Constant change is here to stay."
What a contrast from Malachi 3:6 — "For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed." (NASB)
Changes in SGM have accelerated in recent weeks, and they may be just the tip of the iceberg. As we explained in a previous post, C.J. Mahaney has been reinstated at President of Sovereign Grace Ministries. You can read about it here in Christianity Today (January 25, 2012). Mahaney has made it clear that his reinstatement is temporary and that he will be replaced in the near future.
Just last Sunday Dave Harvey stepped down from the Interim Board as well as from leadership at Covenant Fellowship Church, where he has served as an elder for an extended period of time. It appears he has some family issues that need his attention.
Within Sovereign Grace Ministries, change has always come from the TOP down; however, that trend may be changing. In recent days the pastors of Sovereign Grace Church Fairfax have composed a letter addressed to the SGM Interim Board which outlines their concerns about the current process that is taking place. This letter has been circulated to select churches in SGM, and other pastors have added their names to the letter.
Jim at SGM Refuge published this letter, and he has given us permission to share it with our readers. Please take note of two updates from Jim at the bottom of the post.
It appears that changes in Sovereign Grace Ministries may not always come from the top down… Only time will tell. We pray that the priesthood of the believers, which has been terribly marginalized by SGM polity, will become involved in these changes. That is a change which definitely needs to happen! We welcome any comments regarding the letter below that was penned by the Fairfax pastors.
See update at the bottom of this post.
Dear members of the SGM Interim Board,
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6 ESV)
We write to you on behalf of the Pastoral Team of Sovereign Grace Church (SGC) Fairfax in response to “An Update from the Board,” that we received on February 27, 2012. These have been very troubling times for our family of churches, and we thank God for you, as you have labored many hours serving as Interim Board members. We continue to pray that the Lord himself will preserve your souls in peace and that as fellow brothers in Christ, we all will remain focused on glorifying God our Savior.
When we received your update, the SGC Fairfax Pastoral Team discussed the changes in the leadership structure, the functions of the permanent Board, and the nomination and affirmation processes. We also reviewed the list of nominees for Board membership. In the light of our discussions, we are declining to participate in the process of affirming these nominees because we believe the process is premature and unwise.
The process is unnecessarily rushed.
You ask that the online feedback form with affirmations and concerns be submitted by March 7, just 10 days after we received the update. You do not explain your rationale for the urgent timeline. We suggest that it would be better to wait until after Ambassadors of Reconciliation releases its report of findings. We understand that this report will include key weaknesses and strengths in SGM’s cultural norms, polity, and structure, all of which could inform the way we move forward in seating a Board.
Ongoing lack of or contradictory communications
We see an established pattern of a lack of communications, including the absence of regional meetings, over the last several years. The most recent example is that we received your February 27th update without any meaningful conversation about the process involved or the contents of the update. Within the update itself, there is very little explanation about how and why the new Board nominees were selected.
In addition, we have received contradictory communications that make it difficult to know what to believe about the actions being taken by the Interim Board. For example, you had explained in “Sovereign Grace Board’s Response to the [Panel] Reports that your “mandate as an interim Board was to evaluate Brent’s allegations,” leaving a “thorough examination of SGM’s leadership structure … to the next Board.” With your latest update, however, it is clear that you have made determinations about polity outside of your self-described scope.
Lack of diversity among the nominees
There is no doubt that the nominees are upright and godly men. However, the lack of diversity of opinions is of great concern. Such diversity would come by including broader perspectives on polity from all of our churches, as well as representation from the international churches, and would greatly enhance the pursuit of much-needed reforms in our family of churches.
Ongoing polity problems
SGM’s new Board, like the previous and Interim Board, will have great authority without strengthened accountability. In effect, the Board remains self-appointed and self-perpetuating because we have no commitment that you will act on the concerns that SGM pastors express.
In addition, there is a lack of sufficient clarity about SGM as an entity. There needs to be a theological document that lays out the Biblical explanation of SGM that is published, peer-reviewed by those outside our movement, and discussed as a whole by all SGM pastors.
Proposed Way Forward
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. (Proverbs 21:5 ESV)
Our dear brothers, we appeal to you to slow down. Please stop and listen to the churches you are connected to and emerge from; create forums for pastors to speak together and with you; and call a council of pastors from each church together to discuss our future and make decisions together.
We make these appeals as one of the founding churches in our family of churches and as fellow followers of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who can redeem all circumstances and make right all relationships. Also attached is a list of churches and their Pastoral Teams who agree with our concerns and proposed way forward.
Please receive this letter as an expression of the desire we all share for the reform of our family of churches. For over three decades, we all have been walking together for the sake and advancement of the gospel. We hope to continue doing so fruitfully for decades to come.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you,
Lou Gallo, David Hinders, Vince Hinders, Luke Middleton, Mark Mullery, and Seita Sakaguchi
Sovereign Grace Church Fairfax
The Pastoral Teams of the following Sovereign Grace churches have reviewed, and are in general agreement with, the concerns expressed in the March 7, 2012 response letter from the Sovereign Grace Church Fairfax Pastoral Team to the Sovereign Grace Ministries Interim Board:
Christ Church – San Francisco, CA
Toby Kurth, Tim Chao, Jeff Locke, Jon-Paul Momsen
Christ Our Redeemer Church – Vancouver, WA
Covenant Life Church – Gaithersburg, MD
Joshua Harris, Robin Boisvert, Dave Brewer, Don DeVries, Braden Greer, Isaac Hydoski, Grant Layman, Jamie Leach, Joe Lee, Matt Maka, Adam Malcolm, Kenneth Maresco, Corby Megorden, Mark Mitchell, Kevin Rogers, Eric Sheffer, Jon Smith, Ben Wikner
Crossway Community Church – Vancouver, BC
Pat Sczebel, Fred Eaton, Marty Jones, David Smith
Grace Christian Fellowship – Spokane, WA
William Farley, David Farley, John Kershinar, Dave Nelson, Jim Spurgetis, Mark Williams
Grace Covenant Church – Jacksonville, FL
Joe Calabello, Craig Eddy Sr., Ed Edwards
Gulf Coast Community Church – St. Petersburg, FL
Jerry Cisar, Steven Brunson, Daryn Kinney
Sovereign Grace Church – Cleveland, OH
Darren Lander, Roman Bibyk, Bob Digney, Eric Grover, Jonathan Putnam, Brian Reebel, Keith Schifano
Sovereign Grace Church – Greenville, SC
Sovereign Grace Church – Indiana, PA
Mark Altrogge, Stephen Altrogge, Joe Ryer
Sovereign Grace Church – Oswego, IL
Josh Fenska, Jamie Maxim, Tab Trainor
Wellspring Church – Pleasanton, CA
Sam Shin, Justin Chang, Chris Feng, Dan Kim, Thomas Ki
March 8 Update:
I have nothing but respect for the men listed above. Knowing that other SGM pastors are in general agreement the FFX letter, my first response was disappointment by the lack of participation by some teams. I was wrong. One of the participating pastors posted late last night that, “Only a few churches even knew about this letter – it was just voluntarily shared amongst like-minded friends. We are all hoping for reform and in faith that God will help us all honor and please Him in the process.” This was confirmed by another source via email. Makes sense, given the unreasonably short time frame given to pastors to “affirm” the new board nominees.
I think it would wise for other pastors to express their general agreement with the FFX letter to the interim board immediately.
Kudos to the FFX pastoral team for taking a leadership role in this matter.
I’m hearing from other church leaders who were unaware of the FFX letter. Some are sending “in general agreement” notes to the board, some are sending their own letters, and some already have.
The distaste for the interim board’s actions is not limited to 13 churches.
Lydia's Corner: Jeremiah 23:21-25:38 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 Psalm 84:1-12 Proverbs 25:15