Information Control

January 13, 2010 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

In the two years (plus some) that I’ve been moderating this site, the one thing that never ceases to amaze me is how little most of the members of Sovereign Grace Ministries churches know about what goes on in their own congregations.

When it comes to major leadership decisions – financial commitments, hirings, firings, “de-giftings” – it is a simple truth that the average SGM member will typically be the last to know.

Sometimes this is true, of course, because the people themselves don’t want to know what is going on.  Either they don’t care, or they truly don’t believe that it is any of their business.

But often, people are clueless about the major decisions their pastors are making because their pastors have deemed it unnecessary for their congregations to know what is happening.

More troubling, sometimes pastors will give their people only the sketchiest (and even, perhaps, factually less-than-accurate) accounts of what happened to bring about certain decisions.

I’ve been thinking about this particular SGM oddity a lot lately, because I’ve noticed an uptick in the questions I’ve been getting from readers who want to know what I’ve heard about various upheavals at their own “local” churches.  Many folks seem to be writing because they are curious about the specific details of these situations and – lest they be accused of gossip – don’t want to have to approach their pastors to get the scoop.

Frequently, they’re not entirely sure that they’d even GET the full scoop from their pastors.

You can think what you will of this lockdown on information – this attitude from the leaders of, “You can know only what WE deem necesary for you to know.”  You can think that it’s the way church should be.  You can believe that it’s a good way to squelch gossip.  You can think that leaders absolutely have the right to leak out only what they’ve decided their church members ought to know.

You can believe this is a good thing.

But I’m not so sure that it is.

Often, anything less than full disclosure is the surest way to stir up gossip.  The absence of clear and objective facts will cause people to speculate – even if they never actually talk among themselves.  It will produce confusion.  It’s also a way of sending a message to the members in the pews (or stackable chairs) that their pastors think they know better…and are not to be questioned.

What the information control really boils down to is yet another manifestation of a larger truth – that SGM pastors believe themselves to be a different class of believers, on a higher plane than the people for whom they actually work.  That’s why we see, in SGM teachings, statements like this one:

It also comes out in – that – that – that Jenny is seeing a counselor. Um, a Christian counselor, someone I know. Uh, and I’ve talked to. But someone who I would say, though they’re Christian, and respects what we do, would be more what we – would be called an integrationist-type counselor, someone who would use the Bible, but is – but drops over into therapeutic categories, psychological categories, as well. Um, I think, frankly, from interaction with our church, and materials, this person has been moved toward more of a Biblical approach, but I don’t assume that what she’s telling is what I would be telling.

So – but you know what, it’s an opportunity for me, so I can, “Oh really? So tell me what you guys are talking about.” So one of the things I do when someone is meeting with a counselor is I – “Tell me what you’re talking about, tell me what you’re hearing.” You know, and – you gotta do it with a happy face. [Crowd laughs.] Um. You know, if you fold your arms like this and say, “So what are you hearing,” you know – you’re not gonna get anything. “Oh, we’re just talking about my life.” But – “Tell me what you’re talking about. Oh really?” And – [unintelligible] try to find connections, try to find similarities, even with a secular counselor. “Oh really, they’re saying that, now why do you think they’re say – that’s interesting, where does, what” [unintelligible] – you’re intaking all the time. One of the things you have to do as a counselor is always intake with a happy face. [Crowd chuckles.] Um, uh, it’s a poker face. Sometimes you’re hearing things and you’re cringing inside. But you realize that, “I can’t let them know my game, and so I’ve got to be able to relate to them.”

—-Andy Farmer, from The Pastor And The Counseling Process

SGM pastors would seem to see themselves as in charge, in control.  As knowing more than their people, as having better discernment and as being better able to handle certain “sensitive” information.

As having some sort of secret “game.”

I guess that’s why they leave their people to wonder, to question, to secretly fire off anonymous emails to a blog moderator.