Why Good Guys Go Bad

A lot of people within Sovereign Grace Ministries churches puzzle over how it is that there are accountability issues within the SGM organization.  How is it that otherwise nice and godly guys with a sincere desire to serve the Lord could end up having such a difficult time providing real accountability for each other…especially when they have demonstrated such skill in confronting ordinary church members about their sins?

I was thinking about this question today, in the comments of the previous post.  Here is what I wrote.


If we examine the process of becoming and remaining a pastor within SGM, it will help us understand why pastors in the SGM system – who can seem like such nice, godly guys who are sincere in their desire to serve God – can easily end up compromising their integrity. I’d even argue that because of the way the system is set up, it’s practically guaranteed that they will compromise their integrity.

How does one become an SGM pastor? Well, as we’ve frequently discussed, the road to a pastor’s job within SGM is one that starts by invitation only, and the invitation is issued by men who are already pastors.

The invitation comes when pastors believe you to be a godly man whom people want to follow – and “godliness” within SGM is characterized primarily by SGM’s concept of humility. In SGM, “humility” is not necessarily the same as it is in the rest of Christianity, where it is characterized by self-forgetfulness and serving “the least of these.” In SGM, “humility” instead is demonstrated by submitting yourself to your leaders and by elevating your leaders through your obedience to them and through your expressions of deference to them. A key part of this is always agreeing with your leaders about their assessments of your sin.

Elevating your leaders and deferring to your leaders – as well as demonstrating in front of your leaders that people also want to follow and defer to you – will be the behaviors that cause your leaders to believe that you are humble…and thus godly.

This deference – always agreeing with your leaders’ assessments of your sin, always speaking to them in the most respectful, honoring way, doing whatever you can to serve your leaders and lift them up through praise – is amped up to a whole other level at the Pastors College. There, you are paired up with a pastor-mentor who proceeds to make you strip spiritually naked. Your (and your wife’s) deepest darkest sins are confessed and discussed freely and openly with your pastor-mentor and his wife. Your every weakness is probed relentlessly.

Just like in the army, you are broken down to nothing through the weekly meetings you have with your pastor-mentor as well as through the use of “humorous” put-downs and even some silly hazing rituals.

After you are broken down, to where you truly believe you are nothing and have nothing to offer, you are then built back up – in the image of your pastor-mentor, who himself is patterned after CJ.

It’s little wonder that the guys who come out of SGM’s Pastors College have so often ended up talking and even looking exactly the same. They were taught that they should “follow their leaders, even as the leaders follow Christ.” Unfortunately, in SGM, that mandate has been interpreted in the most literal and wooden of ways, to where all too frequently, “following Christ” has been equated with following CJ and CJ’s followers.

After being in the environment of the Pastors College – which, incidentally, is a very expensive 9 months of SGM-centric study that is more about learning the SGM way of doing ministry than it is about actual Bible knowledge and real Spirit-led growth – the newly minted SGM pastor comes out completely re-made, ready and willing and completely submitted to do whatever his leaders tell him to do.

He’ll be placed on staff at a church somewhere and given a salary decent enough to allow him to afford to buy a nice-enough home and support a family with a stay-at-home wife. Almost immediately, he will get to enjoy the fruits of his labor, as the deference he paid to his SGM leaders for the previous several years will now be paid to him. He will be talked up in an introductory speech as the greatest, most humble and wonderful guy ever to come out of the Pastors College…and he’ll quickly be extended the same sort of obedience and submission by the church members. He’ll find himself counseling people and assessing their sin and having people agree with him.

That’s some pretty heady stuff.

Some years go by. Our PC grad is now a senior staffer. He’s not the senior pastor, but he’s one of the more established church leaders. His family owns their nice-enough home and has enough money to live well enough. His wife perhaps homeschools the kids…and in her own way also enjoys a level of influence in the church community as a women’s leader.  One of the main fruits of their labor is that they are regarded all around as godly leaders to be revered and honored.  Although they don’t misuse anyone, they have nonetheless grown accustomed to having people want to serve them.

Now, think about what happens when the proverbial fly gets into the ointment. Our now-veteran PC grad established pastor is cruising along, when lo and behold, he begins to get inklings that all is not as it should be in something the senior pastor is doing. The senior pastor is not behaving with integrity in some fashion. What does the junior pastor do?

Well, although he’s quite used to directing the lowly church members’ attention to their own sins, it’s a different game with his boss. So he must proceed very carefully. He doesn’t just barrel into a confrontation. Perhaps he approaches it in a round-about way, hinting at the problem. When that doesn’t work, he bucks up and – with much trepidation – dares to try and put his concerns into words. All the proper flowery flattery does come first…but then he does his best to oh-so-gently lower the hammer.

It does not go well. The senior pastor is even more used to the deference from everyone in his world, and “everyone” would include the junior pastor. Having Junior attempt to correct him just feels…wrong. Plus, if Junior just knew how things really were, he wouldn’t be asking questions or insinuating that something was wrong. Junior is misinformed. Moreover, Junior is arrogant! Junior must be put back in his proper place!

So Senior Pastor does what by now comes naturally. He directs Junior’s attention back to Junior’s own sins and shortcomings. Certainly Senior Pastor is very familiar with what those sins and shortcomings are – he’s had enough years with Junior to know just how to bring up the besetting sin, the Achilles heel.  He knows just how to hit the sweet spot.

Despite his best resolve, Junior finds himself responding the same old way when he hears the same old song about his sin  – with automatic deference, because it has been by now beaten into him.  Especially if Senior Pastor happens to be someone like his own dad (who was trained in the 90s to spank a 2-year-old Junior with a glue stick until Junior joyfully obeyed), Junior will find himself folding like a cheap lawn chair the moment he faces his first real challenge from Senior Pastor.

End of confrontation.

End of potential accountability for Senior Pastor.

And this was for an area of real concern to Junior. This was for an area of actual sin in Senior Pastor’s life.

Imagine what the relational dynamic is like for more prosaic, less obvious dilemmas. Imagine what a meeting looks like where some neither-here-nor-there church decision is being made. Whose will is almost always guaranteed to prevail…even if lip service is paid to making a mutually agreeable choice?

But let’s say that the Holy Spirit is at work in Junior’s life, and Junior begins to experience real and genuine conviction about something he knows is not right in the inner workings of his church. Let’s say that rather than folding, as he’s been so conditioned to do, Junior instead continues to stand firm. He continues, stubbornly, to refuse to bow and bend as he always has. Going against all his training, he refuses to submit to Senior Pastor – who is, after all, Junior’s spiritual authority, his covering, his head.  Instead, Junior sticks up for what he believes.

What’s going to happen to Junior?

At that point, Junior faces the very real possibility of having Senior Pastor decide that Junior is exhibiting “ungodly” behavior. Junior is demonstrating pride! After all, Junior is no longer submitting to his authority. Junior is unteachable. Junior is not humble, despite his most ingratiating preambles.

The wheels are then set in motion, and Junior finds himself on the fast track to being disciplined out of a job. Junior looks around and wonders what he can do.  Unfortunately, SGM’s Pastors College training isn’t really acknowledged or accepted as adequate pastoral education in the rest of the non-SGM Christian world. If Junior is lucky, he will have earned a college degree prior to being sent to the PC. If he’s really lucky, he will have some sort of other non-pastoral vocation that he can once again embrace so that he can make a living. But it’s going to be a struggle. Junior discovers, to his dismay, that what had seemed like a moderate salary is actually quite generous when compared to what he’ll be able to earn just starting out in his new profession, if he’s even lucky enough to get a foot in the door and get an interview, let alone land a job. As a pastor, he enjoyed all sorts of tax advantages. As a manager at Home Depot, on the other hand, he can no longer count on things like a tax-free parsonage allowance. All he’s left with is the same old ordinary mortgage interest deduction that’s available to all little people.

Junior begins to have serious doubts about his convictions. Who is he, to ask questions? Really – who is he? He knows his own heart. And of course, his heart is deceitful. His pastor – Senior Pastor – is the one who knows Junior’s heart better than Junior knows it himself.  That’s the answer!  He will do the (SGM version of) the godly thing and go back and submit himself to Senior Pastor once again.

Who wants to go work for Home Depot anyway? Far better to be sacrificing for the gospel.

THIS is how SGM’s dysfunctional lack of formal accountability happens.


128 comments to Why Good Guys Go Bad

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  1. Roadwork
    March 15th, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Just so you know my perspective, it’s going to take a lot more than 16 churches to sign an “Unhappygram” voicing their displeasure with the Board’s latest shenanigans. It’s going to take men (and women) of courage to stand up and say, “Enough!” “This system has hurt far too many for far too long and rather than try and salvage the system, we are going to start completely over regardless if it costs us members or our building or even if we have to affiliate with some long time denomination that has a proven track record of accountability and godliness. Neither we nor SGM are the head of this church, only Christ.”

    As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing salvageable in SGM, the Movement.

    Let loose the Holy Ghost Wrecking Ball.

  2. Roadwork
    March 15th, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Kris said,

    To be fair to CJ, the guy obviously had followers, people who wanted him for their leader.

    Sun Myung Moon has followers too. Hmmm… Actually, there are some parallels…

  3. Kris
    March 15th, 2012 at 6:22 pm


    I didn’t mean that followers necessarily legitimize a person or vet his ministry or doctrine. Just that I could understand if CJ took the crowds clamoring for his leadership as a sign that leading them was what God wanted him to do, even if CJ had no elders to commission him or send him.

  4. Roadwork
    March 15th, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    I know. Just having a little fun. SGM leadership never seemed to like my brand of “fun”.

  5. Kris
    March 15th, 2012 at 6:35 pm


    I got it. I was gonna add a :D but it didn’t take. Your humor is always welcome here.

  6. B.R. Clifton
    March 15th, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Kris #103: It’s called positive reinforcement.

  7. Contentious Jones
    March 15th, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Apparently Josh Harris said in one of his recent sermons that there are no more “apostles” in the NT sense, and in his most recent sermon he believes CLC sheep should have a say in the election of elders (although the current “elders” will have the final say – go figure). So how can he speak as a de facto representative of SGM at that upcoming SBTS Renown conference while he publicly denounces many of SGM’s distinctive polity doctrines at the mother ship? He can’t have it both ways…

  8. Oswald
    March 15th, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    ConJon #107 — Who says Josh is speaking at the Renown conference as a de facto rep of SGM? He has other identities you know.

  9. Persona
    March 15th, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    C-Jones 107

    Joshua seems to pretty comfy sitting on the fence between dependent and independent but, I agree he cannot ultimately have it both ways.

    He and the other elders cannot continue to give sgm money if they lack congregational approval. The congregation will merely stop giving money to them.

  10. sgmnation
    March 15th, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Con-Jones #107 – Re: Interesting that you mentioned Joshua Harris declaring “no more apostles” in the NT sense… I blogged about apostolic ministry –

    I believe the topic of apostolic ministry is going to be a keenly debated point within SGM in coming days. I believe there is a part of SGM board leadership seeking to re-establish old school apostolic ministry – a paper defending SGM position on apostolic ministry was written and released by an SGM church in NC. Apostolic ministry = power and control over SGM.

  11. Nickname
    March 15th, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Argus #12 — your nice neighborhood adjacent to a nicer neighborhood — we stopped calling it by its given name years ago, and started referring to it as “The Promised Land.”

    And you probably aren’t even in the same city, but its the same Promised Land nonetheless!

  12. Fried Fish
    March 15th, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Re: Contentious Jones’ 107 -

    “So the question: did “apostolic ministry” cease with the passing of the first apostles?

    If we’re talking about the writers of the Scriptures, yes. Apostles of that brand are done, gone, they’ve left the building. However, this does not mean that they were the last men God would call and grace to extend the mission of the gospel through church planting. Such men are still around and quite essential. Here’s the thing: the continuity between the original recipients of the Great Commission and the present practitioners who extend it on behalf of the church is not one of office, authority, or anointing. It is function.”

    Anyone wanna take a stab at who said that? BTW it wasn’t CJ. Here’s the link to the full post:

  13. Nickname
    March 15th, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    We asked the apostle question before joining, and were told that they didn’t really mean “apostles” as in those who had actually seen Jesus, apostolic succession, etc. The explanation was that they use the word apostle because it meant that they were the top step in oversight of other churches — simply a label, and not meaning that the SGM aspotles had any kind of extra-spiritual insight, power, or authority.

    Actually, several years later they de-gifted the guy who gave that explanation. Too bad, because without him, our entire new members class would’ve headed south over the little ‘a’ thing, and they’d have missed out on some impressive tithe money. Not from me, but from some of the others who pulled down some longgg green. (Come to think of it, that gravy train has long left the station. Not ONE family who was in our enlistment class remains in an SGM church, and most of them left before any of the recent unpleasantness came to light.)

    Sooo — was the guy who gave the definition to us lying at the time? I think not. But it was one of those words that got redefined, only nobody bothered to publish the new definition.

  14. Nickname
    March 15th, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    The very word “apostle” — ok, you Greek scholars among us — does it not mean “one sent forth”?

  15. Res Ipsa
    March 15th, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    A Kindred Spirit, I wish I had responded sooner to your post, but I promise you I have never in my life had the patience of Job. About anything. Ever. I’m probably the most impatient, unsubmissive person you’ll meet (seriously, just ride in the car with me once) and I’m the least likely choice for a secretary in the history of SGM. This isn’t false SGMesque humility – me as Brent’s secretary was just nuts and my friends still laugh about it today.

    But you learn to survive, so you learn to put staples back in the holes, to keep the blinds in your office turned at a specific angle so they match the blinds in Brent’s office, and you make 5 trips to Target to buy the perfect wastebasket for the kitchen. I don’t want my point to be lost among the staple references, though – a man who focuses on details like these does NOT just sign Articles of Incorporation without scrutinizing them. Brent would surely have known that the Articles would be significant, would be filed with the Secretary of State and would be a public document that bound SGM. To now contend that he signed it without reading it simply blows my mind.

  16. Shoreline
    March 16th, 2012 at 6:53 am

    I am with Roadwork in 101. There is nothing to salvage but plenty of lessons learnt.
    I am much more interested in how to salvage shipwrecked faith as a result of the experience of sgm.

  17. B.R. Clifton
    March 16th, 2012 at 7:02 am

    Nickname #114:
    That is the precise English translation of the greek word. By extension it means a messenger, or someone sent to deliver a message. Think of it in terms of the little guy who used to work for Western Union delivering telegrams on his bicycle. That’s apostleship in a nutshell. By the way, apostle is spelled with a small “a” and not a BIG “A” as is believed in some circles. The position of an apostle is to deliver the message and establish a theological or doctrinal foundation. It’s not a governmental position. The governing part ofthe church belongs solely to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

  18. Stunned
    March 16th, 2012 at 7:05 am

    Apostle. Greek: “apostolos” / a person sent by another; a messenger; envoy

    who is not a greek scholar but has her PhD in google

  19. Stunned
    March 16th, 2012 at 7:06 am


    I like what you said. Welcome.

  20. Fried Fish
    March 16th, 2012 at 7:14 am

    @ Stunned -

    who is not a greek scholar but has her PhD in google

    That’s a good PhD to have, sis. I often tell people at work that Google is the only reason I still have a job. :)

  21. B.R. Clifton
    March 16th, 2012 at 7:39 am

    Fried Fish #112:
    The “apostolic ministry” is still around, or should be. It was one of five specific gifts to the church that Jesus gave when He ascended to the Father as told in Eph. 4. If Jesus had rescinded the “apostolic” ministry, then why would He not have rescinded the other four ministries He gave at the same time also? Jesus/God doesn’t take back what He gives to His people. As it says in scripture: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” That being true, it matters as to whether we are willing to abide by Jesus’ design for the church or we go off on our own and try to run it according to our own design and vastly flawed opinion.

  22. Muckraker
    March 16th, 2012 at 8:11 am

    B.R.Clifton @117 :goodpost Especially this part.

    The position of an apostle is to deliver the message and establish a theological or doctrinal foundation. It’s not a governmental position. The governing part ofthe church belongs solely to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

    I think this is another example of a word that SGM redefined from its true Biblical meaning. I know they have kept the concept of the “Apostleship” of the SGM Board “under the radar” so to speak in recent years as CJ aligned more with RBD, but their definition is STILL rearing its ugly head in their brand of authority.

  23. Argus
    March 16th, 2012 at 8:15 am

    By the way, Brent has another post up:

    I think it goes along nicely with the theme of “Why Good Guys Go Bad.”

  24. Eric NS
    March 16th, 2012 at 8:28 am

    B.R. Clifton #45, #46, #117,
    Thanks to you, and to others, for answering my question about repentance. B.R., you provided a good example of the answer that I thought I would get when you said in #45 “Actually repentance begins with recognizing that you committed a sin (whatever it may be). Secondly one immediately confesses that sin to the Almighty. Thirdly there’s the request for forgiveness, both from God and then from one who might have been offended (if any). Lastly, one stops doing the sin and begins practicing the right thing to do.”

    This is what we are often taught, and is consistent with what SGM has taught. I thought I’d respond to you but I’m not “picking” on you in particular – after being taught too many wrong things in SGM, I’m a Berean now and I’m not believing anything that I can’t find in my Bible.

    One of the things that I’m looking for now is good biblical evidence of needing to ask forgiveness (or expressing grief for one’s sin) in order for repentance to take place. I’m not saying that that doesn’t often take place, or that it isn’t a good thing to experience, but rather, I’m trying to figure out whether asking forgiveness or experience grief for one’s sin is required by God before repentance has happened.
    Jesus said in Matthew 4:17 to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He said in Luke 5:32 “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” In your post #117, you provide an English definition of the Greek word for “apostle” that I have no problems with. Well, the meaning of the Greek word behind the English “repent” is “metanoeo.” From what I find about this Greek word, it has two parts: meta and noeo. The second part (noeo) refers to the mind and its thoughts and perceptions and dispositions and purposes. The first part (meta) is a prefix that regularly means movement or change. Therefore, the word “repent” means to move, change, or to turn from, in your mind and actions. The word repent does not seem to include, by definition, a four part process like you describe (other than the fourth step about changing, and probably by default, the first step about recognizing that change is necessary).

    Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that seeking out offended people isn’t a good thing. I’m not saying that responding to godly grief in an appropriate way isn’t a good thing. But Jesus didn’t elaborate on what he required when we repent. He didn’t say that we should detail all of our sins to him, and let him see how sorry and broken we are about them, and then that he’ll grant us forgiveness.

    What I am saying is that I think that repentance (which is simply “change”) can happen without necessarily having all of the requirements (in particular, for public grief and confession) that you and others might be thinking are necessary. But if someone can show biblically that those things are required, I would find that compelling to change my own views.

  25. Moniker
    March 16th, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Here’s an interesting article recently posted at Forbes that is relevant to this blog post – “Study Finds That Having Power Can Make You Stupid” It starts out:

    “Do you ever get the sense that the more powerful people get, the more foolish they become? You’re not the only one. Four university professors thought the same thing, and they devised a test to find out if it’s really true. It is, they concluded.

    That is, they found that power dependably breeds overconfidence, and overconfidence dependably leads to bad decisions.”

  26. Bridget
    March 16th, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Eric NS -

    I believe you have defined the word “repentence” and I don’t believe that God requires a list of sins from us before he forgives us. I have found that as I “turned from sinful ways” and took on “the mind of Christ” that God was/is, by the work of the Holy Spirit, showing me areas of sin. It’s been a 30 year process that will continue until I’m face to face with Jesus.

    In your comment, though, you seem to leave out the earthly “relational” aspects of offences, forgiveness, going to your brother if he has offended you, going to your brother if you “know” you have offended him. If hundreds of people (and maybe thousands have been harmed) have come to you and said this is how you have offended and harmed me and my family, wouldn’t that be reason to “know” and ask for forgiveness and seek change? Do you have to “categorize” it all first, as some seem to want to do? Yes, go to God first, but to your brothers and sisters immediately following. The scripture does not tell us to be “concerned” about how the other person will respond (including possible lawsuits arising from confession), although there is scripture that speeks to the persons response. It is the heart that God is changing. He will right His laws on our hearts!

    We are called to live in a way that shows “love” for one another – such that the world will see and take notice.

  27. Fried Fish
    March 16th, 2012 at 9:48 am

    B.R. #121 –

    Just to be clear, in my #112 I was just quoting Dave Harvey of SGM to point out that Josh Harris’ comments referenced by C. Jones in #107 were not inconsistent with those of a top SGM leader using an approved SGM communication vehicle as of a couple years ago – Josh is not deviating from the SGM position as expressed by DH.

    Actions by SGM leadership, and recent statements by CJ, MC, and others, might lead one to believe that position has changed for SGM.

    I’m not disagreeing with you.

  28. Stunned
    March 16th, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Eric, I’m not trying you to change your views in the least or argue with you. I am delighted to see someone take the bull by the horns and study scripture for themselves (as the bible tells us).

    Here is another scripture you may want to add in to your equation in figuring this all out. It is from Matt 5:23 and 24. It says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

    Here’s what I am pondering about this. Going to someone who has something against you is even more important that leaving a gift at the altar! Wow. To me, that seems super powerful. If someone has repented, wouldn’t that include recognizing that someone has something against them? And this is just a thought, but if I really recognized that my changing of definitions, or if my harsh leadership or anything else truly damaged people, then by scripture, I am commanded to GO TO THAT PERSON. As a leader, I’d imagine they have many people to go to.

    This may be a stretch, but, how can you recognize you’ve done wrong and change, without beginning to see the damage you’ve done? Or at least having an inkling and going to the people to learn more? I don’t know. It’s not so much chapter and verse for me in this, as much as common sense. You’ve come to realize you wronged somebody and did them harm, aren’t you going to just naturally want to run to them and apologize?

    (Last night I had a discussion with a man about this and he said that some men think differently than that. That if they are emotional, it can take them a looooonnnng time to say they are sorry. I believe him, but I think that is also a strong indicator that the person has some other more serious issues if “I’m sorry” doesn’t come to mind as soon as they have seen they have done wrong. Then again, I can be a really self righteous person, so maybe just because it’s not too hard on me, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong if it’s hard for someone else.)

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