How SGM Leaders Actually Handle Criticism…

March 28, 2011 in Sovereign Grace Ministries



I think it’s interesting how freely and easily the leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries speak of their sin in the abstract, but when it comes to owning up to specific things they might have done wrong, it rarely goes much deeper than something like, “Well, I’ve been guilty of ‘pride’ and ‘fear of man.’”

Or, if a pastor/leader does attempt to address the issues – as Josh Harris has been commissioned to do at Covenant Life Church – it will always be spoken of in terms of private situations involving specific individuals.  Like I understand that recently, Josh has portrayed CLC’s problems as “all taken care of” by C.J. Mahaney behind the scenes.

But how is that possible?  If an organization has all these beliefs and policies in place that lead pastors to have an overblown sense of their own authority, how can that glaring design flaw be dealt with behind the scenes by C.J.?

I’ve never seen a situation so bizarre, in terms of how leaders will on the one hand be so eager to claim their own sinfulness in the abstract while on the other hand seem so determined to keep the specifics of their (supposed) sins away from public knowledge.

Or – worse – the way that leaders seem so determined to keep from acknowledging organization-wide patterns and trends in the bad things they’ve done, the mistakes they’ve made.

It seems so silly to me that Josh Harris would trot out a sermon series on Nehemiah to rally the troops and silence the concerned…while at the same time attempt to assure people that C.J. has dealt with all the problems “behind the scenes.”  What could possibly have been accomplished by C.J. in private (“behind the scenes”) when so many of SGM’s issues can be traced directly to the leaders’ secrecy and lack of openness with their people?  Sure, maybe some hurt feelings were smoothed over by a jovial phone call from the Big Guy (seasoned, of course, with a few of his well-placed tears).  But what have those “behind the scenes” efforts – or any generic admission of culpability – done to fix the system that CAUSED these things to happen in the first place?

SGM’s approach to talking about the organization’s (and the organization’s leaders’) “imperfections” is pretty much completely meaningless.  If sin is acknowledged, it will always be in the abstract…unless it’s for a specific situation, and then it’s taken behind the scenes.

In the middle is this gigantic blind spot, where leaders continue to refuse to acknowledge how all those specific situations follow a clear common pattern.

So, in my thinking, here’s SGM’s formula for handling leaders’ own sins and missteps and mistakes and “imperfections”:

  1. Direct a lot of effort at disarming people by making them think you’re hyper-aware of your own shortcomings. Talk a lot, in the abstract, about how you’re the “worst sinner you know.”
     
    But then…
     
  2. Teach the people to “believe the best” of you and your cohorts. Emphasize to your congregation how it is their duty as Christians to give their pastors the benefit of the doubt, no matter what.
     
    That should take care of most issues.
     
  3. However, when specific situations arise that become impossible to hide, do whatever it takes to privatize them.  Bring those situations behind closed doors.  Bring in the likes of Peacemaker Ministries, with their confidentiality agreements. Make these situations ALWAYS about “reconciliation” – turn the focus personal, so that if you do have to acknowledge wrongdoing, it’s always about how you hurt a specific individual’s feelings.  And never about how your organization’s structure is faulty and flawed for giving you the power and authority to engage in the hurtful behaviors in the first place.
     
  4. Finally, when enough of these behind-closed-doors situations arise (as they inevitably will when an organization is structurally flawed from the get-go), blindly press on in your efforts to privatize these situations.  Also, refer to Step #1 – talk about your sinfulness in the abstract some more to make you sound like you think you could make mistakes.  Reinforce the idea in your people that disagreeing with you or noticing your mistakes is tantamount to being a “critic” (a Sanballat).
     
    And then, distract, distract, distract. Start talking a lot about revival. Anything to change the subject.
     
    But ultimately…
     
  5. Never EVER get to the place where you openly and honestly connect the dots in front of your people, even if you hold meetings at your house where people tearfully connect the dots for you.

That’s how to press on in the face of criticism. If you’re an SGM leader.