Frequently Asked Question: Why don’t you just leave?

September 2, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

When some of our readers have encountered the stories of Sovereign Grace experiences that haven’t gone well – especially the more dramatic stories – a familiar refrain has been, “Why did they stick around and take that abuse?  It’s a free country.  Why didn’t they just leave?”

Such a question.  So many answers.

First of all, if you’re out there reading this, and you’re one of the folks who did stick around and endure a bad SGM experience for longer than you’d have liked, I invite you to share with us what motivated you to stay. 

Here are some of the reasons I’ve seen for why people put up with things they later on realize they should not have put up with.

A big one is that when you’re in the midst of a situation like that, where you’re being mistreated by your authorities, sometimes you simply don’t realize that you have options.  Typically, you’ve bought into the whole system of thought, where you sincerely believe the message that has been hammered home again and again:  that your pastor is your “covering,” someone whom you must obey and to whom you must submit.  You honestly think that if you don’t submit to him, then you would be sinning against God.

Also, you feel completely stymied about where else you might go to church, if you left your SG church.  SGM has done an excellent job of establishing itself as pretty much the only ministry out there that is both “Reformed” and “Charismatic.”  You are truly convinced that there is almost no other church that would “have good doctrine” AND be open to the gifts of the Spirit.  You think that SGM is the only game in town that “gets it all right.”  If you leave, especially on bad terms, where else would you go?

Plus, there’s the simple reality that – especially if you’ve been in your SG church for awhile – your entire life is wrapped up there.  You don’t want to leave because you think the other members are your closest friends.  You don’t want to leave because all your kids’ friends are there, too.  Your whole family would suffer if you left.

So you stay.  You feel like there’s nothing else to do.

I’ve been thinking about this topic over the past couple of days because, interestingly enough, I’ve received email from a couple of people who pretty much seem to believe that those who feel they’ve been hurt by SGM have only themselves to blame.  One of my correspondents is actually a current SGM member, and he couldn’t seem to understand why anyone would stick around and suffer obvious mistreatment.  He’s convinced that he himself would never put up with such a thing.

Maybe he wouldn’t.  But something that I think this SGMer has failed to remember is that more and more SGM churches are requiring their members to sign “Membership Covenants.”  He himself may have signed one.  After all, SGM’s flagship congregation, Covenant Life Church, as well as at least one other congregation, came up with new documents in recent years that they then made retroactive, so that even folks who’d been in the church for decades had to sign the new covenant in order to retain membership.

And guess what typically appears in these membership covenants?

Yep.  A nice clause that can really complicate matters for someone who finds himself in the midst of a conflict with his leaders, especially if the church discipline process has started.  Check this out, from page 84 of Covenant Life Church’s Starting Points document (downloadable here):

If a member leaves the church while he is under the scrutiny of the disciplinary process or while a censure against him is still in effect, and if the leadership team learns that he is attending another church, the team may inform that church that the person is currently under church discipline and may ask that church to encourage the accused to repent of his sin and to be restored to the Lord and to any people whom he has offended. Such communications enhance the possibility that a person may finally repent of his sin, and, at the same time, serve to warn the other church to be on guard against the harm that the accused might do to its members (see Matthew 18:12-14; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-14; 2 Timothy 1:15; 2:16-18; 4:9, 14-15; 3 John 9-10).

Not only might you be stymied by where else you could go if you left your SGM church – you also could face the very real possibility that your SGM leaders will “spread the word” about you to your new pastor.

So why don’t people just LEAVE when they find themselves in the midst of abuse?

For many, the simple answer is that they can’t.