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Five Years – A Look Back

I know the actual date of Thanksgiving changes every year, but I tend to associate Thanksgiving with this site’s anniversary.  I have memories of starting “SGuncensored” rather late at night, as pretty much an afterthought after many hours spent cleaning and cooking as Guy and I prepared to host a Thanksgiving dinner party the next day.  I know many of you have heard this story before, but for anyone who still thinks there was some great grand plan going on with us, here is how this site came to be:

A little less than six years ago, we started attending a Sovereign Grace Ministries church.  We hunted that church down (yes, it actually felt like that, like it was the opposite of seeker-friendly, like it was quite hard to find) because of the positive way SGM and CJ Mahaney had been talked about on various blogs and other websites that we liked to read.  Almost immediately, things felt a little weird to us, a little “off,” but because of what we’d read from the likes of Tim Challies (with his live-blogging from SGM conferences) and what we knew about CJ (that he shared the stage with John MacArthur), we kept thinking that we must be the ones with the problem.  So we stuck it out.  Besides, everyone was so nice to us.  We were so quickly enfolded into the church community that we felt obligated to stick around.  We didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Meanwhile, though, we kept having these nagging feelings.  Almost every Sunday, I’d come home from church and spend hours searching online for something — anything — that would more accurately reflect what we were seeing at our SGM church, which felt so different from what the Reformed bloggers wrote.  I could find almost nothing at all, except for some comments on a 2-year-old blog post that had been only tangentially related to SGM originally.  I can’t remember everything that was in those comments, but the conversation had veered onto the topic of how much SGM had changed over the years.  One person who apparently had had a long history with the organization revealed (and yes, for us it was a startling revelation) that SGM had actually had two founders rather than just one.   I know that for those who were around PDI in the old days, that’s common knowledge.  And it is common knowledge now.  But back in 2007, even the Wikipedia article for Sovereign Grace Ministries cited CJ Mahaney as the lone founder.

In the comments of that same random blog post (which, remember, had only started out as tangentially mentioning SGM), there was also discussion of how SGM had not always been “Reformed,” and how the shift from overt Charismaticism to Puritan-quoting had been essentially foisted on members without any sort of explanation.

I remember being shocked by what I read on that site.  I even copied and pasted some of the comments about SGM’s history (overtly Charismatic!  speaking in tongues!  TWO founders rather than just one!  with one founder who had mysteriously faded away under questionable circumstances, never to be mentioned again!) into an email and sent them to Guy.

Eventually, we decided that our SGM church wasn’t a good fit for our family.  This wasn’t because of abuse — or, really, any bad experience.  It wasn’t because we’d sussed out some hard-and-fast list of theological differences or problems with polity.  (I didn’t even know about SGM’s pyramid-style polity until probably 6 months into doing this site.)  We left because we felt like the cultural sameness wasn’t something that was going to work for us…and that there was something — we weren’t quite sure what, but something — that was weird and wrong about how an entire church could just feel so…controlled.

I do remember vaguely connecting our own observations about the sense of control and the cultural sameness with what I’d read in those blog comments.  It struck me that it would be easy for leaders to be able to impose anything they wanted on people who were so unquestioningly submitted to them.  And that started to seem sort of creepy.  But – again, this was all in just a gut-feeling sort of way.  We never had a bad experience at our SGM church and struggled mightily with deciding whether to stick around and throw ourselves fully into membership (because the people were so very nice to us) or start the wearisome “church-shopping” process all over again with the hope of finding a place where our family would fit in better.

After months of waffling with our vague ill-at-ease feelings, we finally decided to leave.

After we left, I went back and looked at that random old blog post and discovered people were still posting comments there.  I posted our own story, where (funnily enough) I defended SGM and argued with another commenter that it was NOT a cult.  A couple of days after posting my comments, I checked the random blog and noticed that the whole post — comments and all — had been taken down.

It gave me a really weird feeling, like there had to be something going on, where either A) one commenter or another had been fear-filled over what he/she had shared and had asked the blogger to take it down; or B) SGM itself was exerting pressure on people to take down anything negative.  I began to wonder if maybe there was a slightly sinister reason why SGM’s online presence was so very positive.

I was sitting here late one night telling Guy how odd that was, and he made an offhand suggestion — “Why don’t you start your own blog?”  I sort of looked at him and went, “Hmm, I guess I could.”  Oddly enough, I’d copied and pasted what I’d posted on that other blog into a Word document, so I still had that.  More importantly, I still had the informative comments about SGM’s history because I’d emailed them to Guy some months before.  Guy set up a blog in about 20 minutes, and I put up a couple of posts.  I wanted the information about SGM’s history to be available to others who might be sharing our mixed feelings.

I figured that that would be the end of it.  Imagine my shock when, late on Thanksgiving night, after I’d cleaned up the kitchen and put the china away, I checked the blog and discovered that we’d gotten a bunch of hits.  A few people had commented, too.  How bizarre!

And that’s how it happened.  I had no idea what I was doing, really.  All we had were some gut feelings, a nagging sense that things were not as they seemed.

It was no big deal.

Any of you would have done the same thing.

God has an awesome sense of humor.

Now, when you get the chance, I’d love for you to share YOUR story.  You can talk about your own journey through SGM, or how you found this site, or both.  Or whatever.

641 comments to Five Years – A Look Back

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  1. Stunned
    December 14th, 2012 at 12:52 am

    JustMe,

    No worries, at all! Glad you found it. :)

  2. JustMe
    December 14th, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    IRT #599, not pinpointing a specific “ministry” keeps the message of the article open to all organizations.

    Some very valid points made throughout, Jared did a good job IMO. I don’t believe TGC would pinpoint a specific org (unless they’ve already done so). Right or wrong, it seems Christian organizations won’t publicly call-out other organizations, I don’t see it that much outside the courts with secular businesses either.

    I remember a book heavily criticized for just that (it was in the late eighties or nineties). The content of the book didn’t seem considered prior to the media becoming experts on Mat 18. The book named names with specific issues. I don’t know that any fruit came from the book, good or bad.

    BTW: a new lawsuit is out, this time with a Purpose Driven Life patterned church. Jared’s article could easily speak to that as well.

  3. JustMe
    December 14th, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    btw, did anyone have an opportunity to listen to the Don Francisco song I pasted a while back?

  4. Persona
    December 14th, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Did anyone else hear about Joshua Harris’s announcement about the Christmas (family portrait) greeting card he sent out to church members?

    Apparently someone asked him if he paid for it himself or used church funds. His answer was that he personally covered the expense of sending it but, he will now reimburse staff for helping him with it.

    It’s good that he is being asked those kinds of questions and also good that he is beginning to make things more plain to the congregation, even after the fact.

  5. Stunned
    December 14th, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Wait, are you saying that this was Josh’s personal Christmas card or was it a church Christmas card? This is an important question.

  6. Persona
    December 14th, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Stunned605, The Harris’s personal Christmas card.

  7. Oswald
    December 14th, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Stunned and Persona — I think the sending of a Christmas card to church members from a pastor is sort-of work related…the members would not be relevant to him apart from his being their pastor. I’d say the postage could even have been used as a business expense, cold as it might seem. Just my thoughts.

  8. Persona
    December 14th, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    I am guessing the gesture stood out because it was the first time any pastor has done in it at CLC. In the past, CJ used to tell the congregation to refrain from sending Christmas cards to each other and give the $ to charity.

  9. MAK
    December 14th, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    The whole Christmas card issue is so petty thanks for bringing it up Persona.

  10. MAK
    December 14th, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Reminder that the CLC vote will be revealed at this Sunday’s services. So we’ll have CLC’s (congregation’s) decision.

  11. Persona
    December 15th, 2012 at 12:04 am

    Mak609 I think it is great that Josh brought it up.

  12. Stunned
    December 15th, 2012 at 12:10 am

    MAK,

    I am not sure why using church funds for personal reasons is petty. Throughout church history, for generations, this kind of behavior would have had people very concerned as the money is normally to be used to pay for the poor and needy. Why not so now?

  13. A Kindred Spirit
    December 15th, 2012 at 12:28 am

    Stunned, you’ve got mail. :)

  14. It's just the beginning
    December 15th, 2012 at 12:50 am

    MAK, any guess as to what you think CLC’s vote will be?

  15. Wow
    December 15th, 2012 at 7:52 am

    JustMe….

    Can you repost it? I can’t find it.

    Thanks!

  16. DK
    December 15th, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Most of the CLC members who wanted to stay with SGM already voted with their feet and went to Solid Rock, Louisville, Fourth Presbyterian, etc. I predict the vote will affirm the pastors’ recommendation to leave SGM.

  17. Persona
    December 15th, 2012 at 10:43 am

    DK 616

    Surprisingly, there are still a lot of pro-SGM members who attend CLC. Some remain because their kids are in the school or they have family who don’t want to leave or they have jobs in the school or office or nearby, and they rely on membership for their livelihood.

    But, they are forever changed after the last two years. And the pastors no longer have them eating out of their hands.

    Many others left because they disapprove of the way the pastors are governing CLC. There are plenty of healthier churches in the area where pastors are not mini-dictators.

    Still, once the congregation offers their opinion, more may leave. After the blitz of lobbying, the fact that it is a single issue up for affirmation and, a probably a third of the congregation holds no opinion, the pastors will likely get the affirmation they are looking for.

    And, with that, they will be able to credit the congregation for their split from SGM. Josh and the others will be able to separate from SGM, without censure and, everyone is content.

    And CLC remains pretty much the same church it has always been.

  18. MAK
    December 15th, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Regarding the CLC vote, I would guess that 60-75% of the members actually vote and then 90% of the votes are YES (to “formally” separate from SGM). That’s my GUESS. I could be way off.

    Regarding the Christmas card scandal, when I received the card I took it that it was coming from the Sr. Pastor of CLC in his capacity as pastor so the thought never crossed my mind of who paid for it. I thought it a nice personal gesture from Josh as pastor. God knows we never got one from CJ. Actually this is the first one I’ve ever received from a pastor. Yes, Persona is right, CJ used to encourage members to not send Christmas cards to anyone and give that money in the special Christmas offering. Josh never did this even though we still take a Christmas offering for charity every year.

    Persona #617. Yes, you are correct there are still pro-sgm members in CLC. It will be interesting to see how they handle the vote (if affirmed). I’ve had the same thoughts as your last statement but I thing there has been a lot of change. There is still a long way to go and it’s not going as fast as some want. But if you compare CLC today with CLC 7-8 years ago, there is a BIG difference.

  19. Stunned
    December 15th, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    MAK,

    I thought of you this morning when my male relative opened a Christmas card from the CEO of his company. It was a family portrait and sent from the family’s house, not from the billion dollar company. It’s not like my relative and this man are close in any way but it was a kind gesture to the employees at his company. I think it is interesting that it wasn’t employees who did the work, nor the company who paid for the cards, etc. If it were, there would be some reconning (is that the right spelling?) in the company.

    My brother-in-law has been a pastor for 30 years and if he or my sister sent out Christmas cards from them and paid for it with church money or used church employees to do the work, this would not be considered all that nice by the people in the church (nor by my sister or her hubby). They would all consider it not only impersonal, but a poor use of the funds of the church.

    You can think I am petty all you want. But if I were in the church and in need this season (or heck, if I had half a heart and were aware of people in need this season), I would be upset that this new tradition is springing up when Josh could definitely use PR (according to the stories of the vote coming up), instead of taking care of the time of the church employees being spent on those in need.

  20. MAK
    December 15th, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    OK Stunned, in these situations one really can’t win. Did you send out Christmas cards? Maybe you should have donated the funds to charity instead.

    To add some clarity to this great scandal, here is the quote from Josh’s response

    “Shannon and I paid for the printing, postage and labels and will also be reimbursing the church for the help we got designing the card and affixing all the labels”

    The cards were already paid for, the staff was just used in designing the card and putting on the address labels. oooooohhhhh so terrible…

  21. Oswald
    December 15th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    CLC members: I think y’all should frame the card you received from Josh; it’s probably the last you’ll get. After all the discussion we’ve seen here, he might not want to do it again. Gosh!
    BTW, at CovFel we take an offering at the Christmas Eve service that is given to a local church, not an SGM church. Not sure how that church is chosen to receive the offering, but we usually get a nice note of thanks that is read to the congregation. I guess we are good neighbors.

  22. Stunned
    December 15th, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    MAK,

    Why be so mean? I never once called it a scandal.

  23. justme
    December 15th, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    #615
    wow, here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jd3tmLyYDDM

    I also recommended a decent book, easy read, for pastors and those just interested in ministering to one another, ‘The Jesus Style’ by Gayle Erwin.

  24. Stunned
    December 15th, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    PS. No, I don’t send out Christmas cards, either. And I don’t criticize people who do. Why can’t you see that there is a difference for a pastor using church money for church things and using church money for private things? Josh himself seems to think it is wrong. Why am I being treated like your enemy when Josh recognized this was inappropriate?

  25. Bill Chaney
    December 15th, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    I wish I received a card.

  26. Persona
    December 15th, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Stunned, I think we should cut the folks at CLC a little slack. They may be a little testy these days as they are about to cut the umbilical cord.

    You can hold any opinion you want about the use of church finances or whether pastors should use them to send personal greetings. I don’t actually have serious issue about that since he did apparently pay for the bulk of it.

    I mentioned it merely to show how Josh was being a good example to other SGM pastors in admitting even small faults. And, somebody in the church had the guts to question him about it. I think both those things are a good thing.

    However, my guess is that should Josh choose to send greetings in the years to come, he will use ecards.

  27. Mary
    December 15th, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    I don’t think there would be anything wrong in Josh sending out cards to members of CLC and the church paying for all of it. I remember when I went to CLC getting a birthday card signed by all the pastors and it meant alot to me. It was one of the nicest things they did for me :o) I don’t see a problem with using church funds for a pastor to send cards to church members. I think it is a great idea. Good for Josh!

  28. Mary
    December 15th, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    If in the process of Josh sending cards to church members – he included people in his family or friends outside of church – that would be wrong.

  29. wow
    December 15th, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    JustMe….

    Just listened! Amen!

    Thank you!

  30. Guy
    December 15th, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    I think we’re seeing a pretty cool “shift”. Changes aren’t going to happen overnight.

  31. relative
    December 16th, 2012 at 2:56 am

    Financial transparency, and a desire to share openly with members in response to their questions, is indeed an encouraging sign of progress.

    However, I agree with MAK, that the constant banter over whether or not Josh should reimburse staff for designing the card or stuffing envelopes is extremely PETTY! It is completely a matter of opinion whether or not the church should help with this or not… (and good arguments have been made on both sides.)

    At some point this pettiness will discourage transparency, as these trivial debates become an unnecessary distraction. Don’t we all have bigger fish to fry than trying to figure out if a staff member should be reimbursed for stuffing envelopes? I mean seriously…

  32. Somewhereintime
    December 16th, 2012 at 9:20 am

    The “cool shift” is what is normal with other churches.

    Church leaders need to remember that they are 100% reliant on OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY for EVERYTHING that they receive. That’s why I have a problem when a “pastor” buys a $547,000 house. They live off of the backs of their congregation(s) so they should be careful in the receipt and use of that money.

    I’m sure “double honor” doesn’t imply two times the salary of the top wage earners in the church.

  33. MAK
    December 16th, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    The CLC Vote:

    Total Adult (eligible voting) Members 2,442
    Total Members who voted 60.8%
    Voting Members who AFFIRMED 93.3%
    Voting Members who voted No 6.7%

    Only 100 members voted against leaving.

    The pastors do NOT know how each member voted.

    CJ and Chairman Loftness were notified yesterday.

    CLC will post a PUBLIC statement on the church website tomorrow.

  34. Jenn Grover
    December 16th, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    CLC voted to leave SGM:

    The CLC Vote:
    Total Adult (eligible voting) Members 2,442
    Total Members who voted 60.8%
    Voting Members who AFFIRMED 93.3%
    Voting Members who voted No 6.7%
    Only 100 members voted against leaving.
    The pastors do NOT know how each member voted.
    CJ and John Loftness were notified yesterday.
    CLC will post a PUBLIC statement on the church website on Monday 12/17

    Congrats, CLC!

  35. SGMsingle
    December 16th, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Yes, it’s official. CLC is no longer in SGM. Today Josh Harris announced the results of the congregational vote. More than 90% of the members who voted said yes to leaving SGM, along with all the pastors, so notice has already been given to SGM of the official separation. This is a turning point and the end of an era for many of us. CLC was the original church in SGM, and at over 3000 members it was also the largest.

    There are already significant changes underway at CLC. Addicts and other needy people are being given compassion and help instead of shunning. The pastors no longer squash members who take initiative to start their own ministries and all kinds of smaller unofficial meetings. I know of a family that has opened their home for regular prayer and worship meetings that are unashamedly and radically charismatic. They often last past midnight. I don’t think the pastors would have tolerated that 6 or 7 years ago!

  36. Bought TheField
    December 16th, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    By the way, I have been using the name SGMsingle since I first started commenting on this site around 5 years ago. Since I am in CLC and now no longer in SGM, I will use this new name.

  37. MAK
    December 16th, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    SGM single. Yes, I would agree. Josh’s message today on compassion is a very different stance/emphasis than even 1 year ago. There are so many things that need to change at CLC that we need to be thankful for the changes we do see and be patient that significant change will take time.

  38. Jenn Grover
    December 16th, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    MAK & SGMSingle – good reports and I agree, it will take time, but at least there are signs of change afoot. IF CLC re-established themselves as a charismatic church that would be radical and fill a huge void in American churches.

  39. Lover of CLC
    December 16th, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    This is a good thing for CLC to leave SGM. I think that most people at CLC have lost trust in the SGM leadership. The total disregard of the leadership toward the Fairfax letter was shameful. All that letter asked was to slow down and wait and C.J. and company refused to do that. Shameful. While I am not joy filled as I had thought I would be, this is a wise decision to separate.

    The other day on fb Chad Mahaney posted a link to an article by Kevin DeYoung about hypocrisy. I was close to commenting to him to make sure his father reads that article.

    I guess I understand C.J. moving to Louisville as it was getting hot in Gaithersburg. What makes me sad is how all these people followed him there and moved on to Solid Rock. I guess they don’t see things as clearly as the nearly 94% of those who voted yes. I hope this sends a message to them.

  40. MAK
    December 16th, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Jenn, AMEN sister. I think this will be a much harder path. CLC must now establish what type of church they want to be…charismatic or baptistlike….or something else.

  41. Jenn Grover
    December 16th, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    It seems the SGM trend is to become essentially reformed with a unique Baptist dimension. People who think their local SGM is headed in a different direction are very deceived.

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