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

  1. Phoenix says:

    Also posted on the previous string, but so applicable that I had to repost:) And the link is for all of us — Ode to Joy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBaHPND2QJg

    Many months after I left Fairfax, I reunited with a long time friend who had also been part of it. During our far-ranging conversation, her daughter told us about the Survivors website. I told Noel, another survivor. Through Survivors, she told her story, which (among others) has touched so many hearts and convicted so many consciences. Through Survivors, Noel connected with others who had been abused and they affirmed, blessed, and strengthened one another. Out of their interactions came the resolve to do something to help other victims and out of that resolve came the lawsuit; which will yet be part of God’s work of shaking down strongholds. And not just in SGM, but throughout His church. And today I am thankful. For my friends, for SGMSurvivors, and for how God does and will INDEED work everything for good. Thank you all, as well.

  2. KAZ says:

    I found this site a few tears back after a SGM pastor had told me how completely evil it was ……. The first thing that happenned was I no longer felt alone and realized that my lack of understanding SGMese or be accepted by SGM people was not becuase of insanity but rather my better understanding of reality.
    Thanks to all here who have helped myself and others :o)

  3. Happymom says:

    Phoenix,

    Posting this again too, and thanks for the link, just showed it to my family. Beautiful!!

    You took the words right out of my mouth! Thank you for the role you played in helping survivors connect. No doubt Noel’s courage opened the door for so many others to share their stories.
    THANK YOU to Kris & Guy and all our survivor friends. Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Guy says:

    Happy Thanksgiving friends! We are truly thankful for you.

  5. Steve240 says:

    Happy anniversary Kris and Guy.

    I have been reading this blog from the start.

    For me if nothing else it was good read and find I wasn’t the only one with the thoughts I had. Sadly SGM had been able to keep people from knowing others had similar thoughts through their distorted teaching on what was gossip and slander.

    Thanks for all your work on keeping this blog going.

    Happy Thanksgiving

  6. Carole says:

    Kris and Guy… if not for your blog, I think I would still feel shell shocked and I’m-the-only-one-in-the-world-who-thinks-something-is-wrong-in-SGM-Land. God used this blog to save my sanity and my faith. A mere thank you falls so very short of what is in my heart for you and for all of the other commenters here who shared their stories and helped me realize that I was (am) not alone, that SGM really is whacked! :-)

    Happy Anniversary and Happy Thanksgiving! Many, many people and things to be thankful for this year!

  7. Mary says:

    Happy Thanksgiving Kris and Guy and the many survivors. May God continue to bring health and healing to those who have shared their stories here.

  8. Dan says:

    Happy anniversary!! Thanks so much for your commitment to us all!

    I think (maybe wrong!) that I am one of the few U.K visitors and SGM Survivor! My experience with SGM was a short 2 years – but was greatly traumatised back 2006-2007(ish) by the heavy-handed, authoritarian leadership in UK SGM who threw me out of the church for sharing some of my deeply hidden “skeletons in the closet”. I spent the next 5 years or so vehemently hating SGM and studying and reading to attempt to help expose how cult-like SGM can be.

    It is a testament of God’s ability to sovereignly work miracles, that a few years back I was able to meet with the SGM UK leaders (due mainly to Steve’s (Steve240) help, advise and pursuing of SGM on my behalf. I was able to sit with the SGM leaders and rejoice in their genuine admitting of mistakes and errors – but ultimately to renew friendships (not membership!) and have a few further genuinely happy visits to the SGM England church with my family.

    Nothing has changed regarding my general suspicion of C J Mahaney and his closely-knit army of fans, followers and “regional leaders” – most particularly grieved at Mahaney’s treatment of Covenant Life Church and his progressive downgrade of the Holy Spirit’s part in church life.

    So I am truly grateful for this site. Prior to discovering it, I was in deep depression and contemplating of suicide as I truly believed that the SGM leaders had “cast me out to Satan” and feared I could never step foot in a church again. (PS: that fear still remains, I have remained on the peripheries of church life rarely letting anyone especially leaders get close to me). I can now relax thanks to SGM Survivors support and encouragement knowing that a relationship with God is entirely different to a relationship with His human and mistake-prone church.

    I could not have believed I could make peace with SGM here in the UK – a miracle indeed!

    Thank you again and love to all fellow Survivors!!

  9. Defended says:

    Happy Anniversary, Guy, Kris and all our Survivor Friends, and Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

    Kris I think of you as a friend – an honest wise, straight-shooting friend whom God has used, and yes, I think He does have a sense of humor in using you as well as magnificent wisdom in giving you this ministry exactly because you have had no abuse or cause for anger or trauma, so you are uniquely equipped. But thank you for the compliment that any of us would have done the same. Makes me wonder and hope that I am, indeed doing all that God would have me do for the edification of my brethren.

    Our story is posted, overall but the way we discovered this site is that we had no less than 3 people in a single week mention it to us, as a bit of an underground place, that sgm-ers didn’t like, which was a bit of a tip that we might like it or find some understanding there.

    One more thing, if I can use this forum to add a request… Carole, you are also so understanding and compassionate, have you ever posted your story about finding this site and where you were when you first saw Sgmsurvivors? We are gratefull to God for you and Jim also, but I got wondering about you personally finding this site and the validation you have said you received.

  10. Rick Malament says:

    As others have stated, Happy Thanksgiving to you both. This avenue of discussion has been so important to many of us having given us a voice and the opportunity to connect with other like-minded souls. But I am so looking forward to the day when you post your last post and tell everyone that the blog is no longer needed and will be shut down.
    On that day, all rights will be righted and we’ll all be able to move on. Only God knows when that day will be, but because of this blog I believe we’re one day closer.

  11. Wina says:

    Wow! I got out my old journals from a long time ago and reread about my journey of being part of (but always on the outskirts of) the SGM church up to our leaving. I was never at peace….always felt pressure in one way or another…about “having” to go to conferences (but we didn’t always), or my parenting (or obvious lack of good parenting–I never, ever measured up), etc etc. It was interesting to reread this stuff–5 yrs later. Although our story is more like Guy and Kris’–never was there anything overtly wrong with our SGM, just something wasn’t right, couldn’t put my finger on it, just never felt at peace. Our pastor was a good guy, we weren’t mistreated, in fact, one thing I wrote in my journal was that our pastor told us a few times how he trusted our relationship with the Lord! But still…..

    Anyway, I love the rabbit trail the Lord led me on to get me here. I was on a homeschooling group and someone mentioned a baby that had been born with a heart defect and would people please pray. So I did, and then I kept reading this person’s blog and she happened to mention Larry T. And I thought “Oh yeah, Larry T–he was the one who wrote “Clap Your Hands”–I read that after I got saved many moons ago, I wonder where he is today.” So I googled Larry T’s name and saw that he was linked with CJ. I had never known that. So I followed that and came to a blog or something in which Don Baker wrote his summation of how SGM/PDI had morphed into what it was at that time. I actually copied out what Don had written into my journal as I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t nuts after all!! All my thoughts, ponderings, wonderings, etc. he voiced in a few paragraphs, and OH!!! what relief I felt. I was literally laughing and crying at the same time. The relief was HUGE. Thank you Don Baker!!!! Then it was about a month later that this blog came into view and I’ve been here ever since. I don’t usually post, but I read as I am able.
    It has been 5 yrs since we left our SGM church, we took a few months off after we left just to detox, and when we decided on our new church we took a couple of years to sit in the back pew and wash our brains with the truth. So many times dh and I would look at each other and say “That is 180 degrees different than what (SGM Church) would say.” I am a different person than I who I was when we left. The further away we got from the SGM church the more we were able to see things. LOL, there was more to “see” than I originally thought! Anyway, let me just say that Freedom is a wonderful thing!

    Kris and Guy, Thank you, thank you, thank you. Don’t you love how He leads us in such unassuming ways? The way you both have handled this blog, the people who post here, and Kris– the way you are able to express thoughts and ideas have brought a boatload of healing. Thank you.

  12. 5yearsinPDI says:

    I too am grateful to the Lord for how He has used this site. Kris, I consider you to be one of the most insightful Christian bloggers on the web.

    My big struggle related to SGM for years was the big dogs, not really SGM exactly. We saw Mahaney clearly for what he was eventually, and “left well” with genuine appreciation for the local pastors and their kind farewell to us.

    However, being doctrinally Reformed, Charismatic, Baptist, and complementarian, with a deep love for Piper’s preaching and books as well as Grudem and Puritans and Edwards, etc, needless to say it was very hard. The one and only denomination where we felt like we should fit perfectly, and we finally realized that it was another top down shepherding control freak organization like we had been in during the 70s, with much better doctrine this time around, and as my husband said at last, “we have to get out of here”.

    It is not that hard to deal with wolves and tares- you face up to CJ being a false apostle, get over it, go on. The bible tells us they will be in the church. The Lord led us to a good church right away and we went on with our life. But watching the Gospel Coalition start kissing up to CJ was almost more than I could bear. And Piper, my favorite preacher, seemingly hand in glove with a false apostle. I could not process it either emotionally or mentally.

    This blog has been God’s tool to rip down my putting men on pedestals. I have had to deal with things that I didn’t even think were still there. My walk with God is so much richer now.

    I did start praying over 10 years ago for God to rip down SGM. If you told anybody you were Reformed and Charismatic they immediately said “Oh, SGM, Mahaney’s group”. It was like SGM had captured the entire market on that combination except for the occasional guy like Sam Storms or Grudem. Thousands of young men wanting to be Calvinist and also keep the very real activity of the Holy Spirit gifts today, and the one big mentor was CJ/SGM at all the conferences. Oh I can’t tell you how we struggled in prayer, hub and I both.

    This blog was a godsend, I don’t even remember where I saw it linked. Suddenly we did not feel all alone. It was getting harder and harder to even pray about it; almost like a spiritual force trying to squash us.

    The det docs- wow. Them breaking was just wow. Then that stupid three panel guys report left me cynical…..but AoR was going to solve the problem!! Trained by Sande no less, this was it, the mediators crying as they listened to the stories of abuse. I was shocked when the AoR report came out, shocked. Another pedestal knocked over. Took a long time to get over it. Wondered if Bob Dixon’s vision of the tidal wave was from the Lord. SGM seemed impenetrable.

    Finally, this lawsuit and the move to KY and CLC leaving. Finally. The truth is out there and I think SGM is finished, I really do. You cyber friends have been part of the long journey and the many conversations have been so edifying. I am very grateful to Kris and Guy for all their site work. God bless you. Sorry to be so long winded, too much pecan pie!

  13. Stunned says:

    What everyone else said.

  14. Kris says:

    Thank you to everyone for your kind words.

    For those of you who haven’t mentioned it yet, or haven’t commented – I would still love to hear how you found us.

  15. BrokenHearted says:

    I was googling SGM one day, for fun. And, it was right after google started filling in ideas for you and when I typed in “is SGM” it said “a cult” and I laughed and was like, “Wow, it’s official now someone is wondering…” and than I started reading and couldn’t stop. It’s been a roller coaster for me, but I can say I am legitimately glad “the blogs” exist and I am grateful for how God has used them in MY life and in general. I really don’t think what is happening in SGM today would be happening, or at least not to the extent it is, without the blogs. :)

  16. Nickname says:

    I had been part of a PDI/SGM church for many years, but had moved on as a church musician, though family members stayed there. I had excused the hurtful situation that had affected me as being not the norm, as “they really didn’t mean it”, as “they wouldn’t have done that to someone on purpose”, and I dared not tell anyone what had happened because I was ashamed for those who had done such, and didn’t want their actions to reflect on the Lord. (Besides, I’d been told by the AUTHORITIES not to tell anyone.)

    Although I had excused them, and had forgiven them, I couldn’t figure out why every time anyone mentioned the latest SGM conference or cd release, my skin crawled — yet I was still recommending them to people. I had never cared for CJ; had found Celebrations to be huge eye-openers about many of their methods and some of the teaching; but ignored the stomach-churning that occurred whenever I thought about them. Because, after all, John Piper liked them and he was a Baptist (which didn’t necessarily impress me) and reformed (which put him in my plus column to some degree.)

    It was actually a friend from my SGM church that had asked me to join Facebook – and I really didn’t know what it was. But I signed up, and within the first week, clicked on a LIKE button for SGM music or some such thing — and then a bunch of other SGM-related things popped up on my screen. I clicked on a couple of buttons, and within a few minutes, I found myself on Jim and Carole’s SGMrefuge site. I started reading, and had two immediate gut reactions: one — I was horrified, and two — I felt like jumping up and down, clapping my hands and yelling, “I’M NOT CRAZY AFTER ALL, AND I’M NOT ALONE!”

    Before the night was over, I had also found Survivors, and began reading here. Up to that point, I had not admitted to myself how deeply I had been affected by the intensity of the SGM experience. Since leaving, God had placed me in a flawed, yet ‘normal’ church, and had begun to wash me with the water of the Word, and when the time was right, directed me here. He began to heal me from damage I had hidden and tried to ignore. So much of what I read here resonated with my own thoughts, but until finding the blogs, I had no framework in which to process that thinking.

    Three years later, I feel completely free, and am no longer scarred by teeth marks from the trap. And the family members that had stayed within SGM for a while have now moved out and moved forward into the freedom of God-given desires for a deeper walk. I was so fearful that they would become ensnared, but I should have trusted their integrity and the background of Bible knowledge that was written on their hearts before we ever heard of PDI or SGM.

    Meanwhile, what I have learned from all this — the SGM experience, my own history and observations, posts from Kris, Jim, PK and others, plus comments from the Survivors — has helped me recognize cult-like behavior in several organizations, and helped at least a dozen friends deal with nightmares in SGM-clone situations.

    Thank you, Lord, for your loving kindness in gently guiding me through the maze; and for leading Kris and Guy into providing this ‘first-aid station on the road to Glory’! Thank you, Kris, Guy, Jim, Carole, and every one of the participants here for being salt and light, for speaking truth in love, and for your tender love of the wounded. For all of you, ‘who faith, before the world confessed — Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia!

  17. Uriah says:

    Guy and Kris,
    I don’t remember how I found my way to this blog site. I think one of my friends urged me to check it out and thought I would be encouraged. When I finished reading the stories at Survivors and Refuge, I had the feeling weary soldiers must have when they think the battle is lost and then suddenly discover there is a whole army of reinforcements standing at their side. Thank you for not going away, for persevering, and most of all, for loving the bride of Christ. It is, and will be, very much worth your efforts.

  18. Much afraid no more says:

    This is a true story: One sunday I wanted to listen to a sgm song on the way to church called “God moves in mysterious ways” I couldnt remember what cd it was on, I had just a little time and didnt want to search my piles of cd’s, so I googled sgm’s website to get to their music link to see what the cd cover looked like, somehow (thank you Jesus) when I went to go to their site, this site came up instead! After church I began reading, and read straight thru for 6 weeks, all my dots got connected and within that year, I was able to take courage and leave after being in for 17years. Thank you Jesus, Your ways are indeed mysterious. Thanks Kris and Guy and Carole and Jim for being lights in the dark.

  19. oldtimer says:

    I was researching sgm about 2 1/2-3 yrs ago and ran across your site.
    I had been out of pdi/sgm for 10 yrs but it was great to realize that I wasn’t the only one. I wish you had been around back then when I thought it was me!

    Thank you!

  20. EX IC says:

    Don’t have a testimony b/c i was never in CLC but was familiar with the church’s roots from back in the late 70’s. As a young believer (1980) at Halpine, would hear the warnings of the “shepherding movement” from the pulpit. The passed down stories of TAG, the mentoring of CJ, the rustling of sheep, the formation of GOB, the excommunication of CPS, and the big lawsuit and name change. Saw fellowships divided and friendships dissolve and was fine with being a 2nd class christian. At least I was free in Christ. To make a long story short, after so many years at IC and being caught up in the hot mess of CPS there, I googled “shepherding movement” among other words, to learn about the whole movemnet’s beginnings. And THAT is how I found SGM survivors. I read your stories and posts quietly, sadder but wiser now. Pray for mercy upon the church. And grace to us who’ve been through the wringer. Peace to all!

  21. PhillyInDC says:

    I found this site because I was a “non”member of CLC. I had been going for a while and something just didn’t seem right about CJ. I felt like he had sinister motives, but I trusted him and the pastors, yet I never became a member. Then one morning as I was doing my morning routine, I had a hunch and googled “CJ Mahaney” and I came across this site. The day? The morning after Brent’s documents were released. I feel like a higher power summoned me to do that search that day and find this site. You probably saved me from making a very large mistake, as I was just starting to think about becoming a member. I stopped attending CLC shortly thereafter, and have since returned to my Catholic routes (sorry lol) and have been attending a Catholic Church not too far from CLC. I find it interesting that I recognize some people in the pews from CLC. Thank you Kris and Guy!!!! I am Thankful for this site!

    On a side note: check out this morning’s Friday Funnies on girltalk. Very hypocritical that they post a picture saying that they “find it funny that all these moms post things on pinterest and I managed to keep the kids alive” while they are pimping their own black friday sale. Will these ladies ever learn?

  22. JoyfulandFree says:

    A friend of mine who had left sgm referred me to this site. I was so torn at first because I knew her situation leaving was terrible, but I blamed that mostly on her soon to be ex.

    I was in for 16 years. I always felt like I didn’t meet the sgm wife mold. I constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough but dug in deeper to look inward at my own sin. I became very dry spiritually. I had caregroup to help me try to figure out what my sin was that kept me in the dry place.

    One of my kids was told he was guilty of unbelief. He told me he wanted to kill himself. The weight of legalism was too much. I knew we needed to get out. The AOR report as unsatisfying as it was to those outside, was even more difficult for me inside to watch the lack of response. I knew that I was guilty of many of the points brought up. Especially over focus on the doctrine of indwelling sin. We started trying out another church and I heard words of love spoken to me again by God. Not condemnation. For my son and myself we could not go back. Thank God my husband agreed.

    God opened my blind eyes and I was able to see how many of my friends who had left had experienced the same things and I couldn’t see it. I was able to reconcile with some and seek their forgiveness. God brought me and my family out and we are doing so much better. I started reading others stories here and was broken to realize I was part of something that had hurt so many people including my own dear children. We are having to change everything about the way we parent and the way we see and relate to God. He has been gentle in His discipline of us and so loving.

    I am thankful for this site and the refuge site as reading your stories is helping to understand my story. To put into words some of the reasons why I always struggled in sgm. Our family still needs to work through the effects of spiritual abuse, to process it all. But reading here has helped me to hear from those of you who have recovered or at least are farther along in recovering. God is faithful, He will restore what the locusts have eaten.

  23. Kris says:

    I’m so grateful for all the people who were bold enough to share about their experiences. Those stories have helped so many others, especially those who had been thinking they were alone, or crazy, or both.

    The stories also helped me to understand my own vague misgivings and piece things together. I know this probably will sound odd, but rejecting something for no overwhelmingly specific reason can be a little bit stressful. It can make you second-guess yourself and wonder if you did the right thing. Once other people shared about their own SGM experiences, I understood a lot more about what had made Guy and me so uncomfortable at our SGM church.

    One thing about our SGM church that seemed both especially wonderful as well as more than a bit strange was the singleminded unity, the feeling that everyone was “on the same page” about everything. When you first encounter it, it’s amazing – like, “Hey, this is how church is supposed to be!” But when you start thinking it through, you start to wonder how it’s even possible…and then you start to wonder what happens to people who ask too many questions or somehow don’t fit the mold.

    I’ve shared about this before, but one thing that really nagged at us was what we observed in the life of a young man in our care group. While it’s true that most new SGM members are longtime Christians who have come from other non-SGM churches, this particular young man actually joined our SGM church as a new believer. I think he came to know Christ through one of his relatives – who then brought him to our SGM church.

    Anyway, his conversion was really a joy to behold…at least at first. He was so eager, so hungry. Everything was so fresh and clean. His enthusiasm was contagious.

    But then, within just a month or so, it became clear that he was picking up on some “secondary” ideas, ideas that were coming solely from SGM’s culture. Only, despite the fact that he made a lot of statements that made it clear that he was confusing these secondary issues with real biblical mandates, nobody was setting him straight. For instance, he said several things during a care group meeting that clearly indicated he believed courtship was what “true Christians” did, and that any other approach to finding romantic love was spiritually inferior, even sinful. He also alluded in the same way to homeschooling his future children.

    And everyone in our care group, including our leader and his wife, just sat there and nodded and listened to this young man spout this stuff. Nobody gently redirected him to see the choices (homeschooling, courtship) as mere cultural options, and NOT gospel issues. Nobody said anything about his freedom in Christ.

    Guy and I talked a lot about that new believer, and how what was happening with him made it obvious to us that the people at our SGM church must themselves believe that courtship and homeschooling were part and parcel of the gospel. We wondered what would happen to anyone who tried to say something, who tried to question the norm. It didn’t feel like there was ANY room to do so.

  24. Whirlwind says:

    How I found the site…

    I learned of SGM maybe 10 years ago. Amazingly, I agreed with every doctrinal position they took – calvinist, charismatic, complementarian, elder led. However, I wan’t ready to leave my current church for the SGM church. I do try to take my membership seriously and believe I should live through the minor annoyances and problems any church may have. However, about six to seven years after learning of SGM, circumstances led me to look at other church options. I was excited about trying an SGM church. Fortunately, I can say I hadn’t seen any problems within our church that raised immediate concerns, but when CJ stepped down, I did a few Google searches.

    Wow! I don’t remember if I found Survivors or Brent’s documents first, but most of the day was spent reading. Since that day, CJ’s books have come off my shelves and I have struggled to take several of the RBD’s seriously any more. I’m still in an SGM church and figuring out where I’ll end up. I don’t expect my church will even consider leaving SGM. The controversy just isn’t in most people’s minds, but I have grave concerns over our pastor’s seeming inability to see that CJ’s problems aren’t just “ordinary sins”. As I’ve alluded to in previous comments, I think it has something to do with his coming to SGM within the last 5 years and our church not have strong ties to anyone from the A-team of the 1990s. He hasn’t experienced the theological jumps and since he agrees with them, it’s not a major issue for him.

    I’m grateful for the Survivors and Refuge sites. I think it’s worth anyone’s time to read some stories from earlier years (and, sadly, even recent years). I’m constantly challenged when I come here, because I’m forced to think carefully about what’s being said within my church about what’s happening within SGM. I’ve been driven back to Scripture alone to search for answers and I’ve been able to challenge others who may rely more on books they’ve read or sermons they’ve heard than going back to their Bibles.

    To those who are still in an SGM church, keep fighting the good fight. Challenge leadership when they need to be challenged. An to those who have left, thank you for “sticking around” and sharing your stories to encourage those of us who are still in the thick of things.

  25. A Kindred Spirit says:

    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!

    I was one of those “hits” that fateful Thanksgiving night. Like Kris, I would spend hours searching online for something that would more accurately reflect what I was seeing in SGM. Until that night, all I had ever found was “glowingly” positive. To this day I can still remember how shocked I was to finally find something negative about SGM. I would check the blog every day to see what Kris had posted and what others were saying. I was addicted. I found myself constantly nodding “yes…Yes!…YES!!” to everything that was being said. After two months of reading only, I finally found the courage to comment. I found Kris and the other commenters to be kindred spirits…thus the reason for the name “A Kindred Spirit.” The rest is history.

    Unfortunately I’m not just an “SGM survivor.” I have seen the same cultural oddities, authoritarian/controlling parenting, sin-focus, and shunning techniques in other “Christian groups” for over 30 years now. We observed it among the folks we homeschooled with. We observed it among the folks we “Christian-schooled” with. We’ve observed it in churches other than SGM – solid, doctrinally sound churches within the Presbyterian and Baptist denominations. It’s everywhere, and my family and I have suffered greatly as a result of it.

    My children have been tainted in varying degrees by their exposure to the mess, and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel remorseful. My husband and I thought we were bringing them up “biblically.” I have cried many tears on their behalf and I am sure I will cry many more until God restores all that the locusts have eaten within my sweet family.

    I will forever be indebted to Kris, Guy, and the commenters for the role they’ve played in helping me “understand and overcome,” and most of all, for helping me regain the freedom and joy I once had as a Christian before I was exposed to all the extra-biblical and legalistic crap (it’s straight from the pit of hell).

    This blog is so much more than SGM.

    (P.S. Kris, thank you for your friendship behind the scenes.)

  26. Ruby says:

    My husband and I and our children had been going to an SGM church for more than ten yrs. My husband and I decided to visit another (non-SGM) church to hear an eight wk. sermon series the pastor was giving. We had every intention of going back to our SGM church after the series ended, but didn’t. After being in this new church for that short time we knew that it was more like church should be; besides we had been sensing some things over the yrs. about SGM that didn’t seem right….the controlling. It was after my husband and I left our SGM church that I stumbled upon the Survivors blog. I can’t even remember who I heard it from, but someone said to do a google search on “Sovereign Grace Ministries” and “cult” and so I did and I found this wonderful blog. The one thing I read on the blog that really stood out to me was the controlling that goes on in SGM churches.

    After my husband and I had left our SGM church, and after reading the blog, I began to pray that the Lord would bring our kids out of the church who were still there and who were now married to their spouses they had met in the church. They were all seemingly very rooted in the church and very involved there. They eventually came out of the church with a bunch of other church members, and they joined another non-SGM church. As it turned out, our kids had been having some bad experiences at the SGM church and had been becoming more and more disenchanted with its leaders and the church they had once loved so much.

    We had been going to the SGM church when our kids were younger and my husband and I felt that we had lost our kids to the church. We were a new family there years ago, and the SGM church had such an effect on our kids, which we thought was a good thing. We were told that family life and everything should revolve around the church. The church came to control our kids so much that we didn’t see them very much and couldn’t plan to do family things together because they were so involved with the church. We were willing to resign ourselves to things being that way because, after all, didn’t we want our kids to be servants? Didn’t we want them to have good and godly friends? Didn’t we want them to have a passion for care group, accountability and this and that and the other thing? The church was very clever in creating areas to serve in, and so our kids were always on the go and our family life suffered. The church stole the last precious years that we had with our kids at home. And whenever they were at home they were usually planning or preparing for something that had to do with the never ending church activities. I even felt that we, as parents, were snubbed by our own kids at our SGM church…..was it because we resisted being as involved (controlled) as they were in the church?

    Now that our family is out of SGM I think our kids now see it all for what it was. But now I have a different kind of a prayer for one of my kids in particular. I hear that he isn’t going to church very much anymore, and I’ve been seeing indications that he is drifting away from his Christian faith. I pray I’m wrong but I have such a HEAVINESS within me for him. He was once so very committed to studying his Bible, worshiping, and being faithful to the things of God. I believe that because of the disillusionment with SGM he has allowed himself to be spiritually derailed. PRAYER REQUEST! Will those of you on this blog PLEASE PRAY for my son? Pray that the bad experience he had at the SGM church would not cause him to take his eyes off Jesus Christ! Pray that his love for the Savior will not grow cold and that he wouldn’t be indifferent toward the things of God! I would appreciate your prayers very much. Thank you!

  27. Mary says:

    I found you one day by typing in something like the words, SGM cult – LOL – and there you were :o) I wish you would have been online when I first left SGM. It really does help to hear other people’s stories and your comments Kris are very enlightening.

  28. Steve240 says:

    If nothing, this blog and Refuge don’t allow SGM Leaders to get away with doing questionable actions as they have in the past. Before the blogs, SGM Leaders could do all kinds of questionable actions with few people knowing what they did. Knowledge of these actions were typically only known by a few people. Now a lot are reported on the blogs. Some examples include:

    – Noel’s story about a 3 year old girl being molested and how poorly the SGM Fairfax pastors handled it including seeming to more care about protecting the molester vs caring for the littler girl and her family.
    – Ex CLCers and Ex ClCers mom’s story. We now know how sadly Gary Ricucci and John Loftness handled a step father molesting his step daughter and how these two pastors cut off support of this poor mother and her large number of kids.
    – Other poorly handled cases of children being molested.
    – Esther’s story in VA Beach/Chesapeake. People now know the sad actions of pastors insisting that a married woman stay with her abusive husband under threat of church discipline.
    – Cases of Steve Shank “shanking” various SGM pastors.
    – One pastor and his wife “treating” a normal weight woman for anorexia even thought the pastor’s wife had no medical training.
    – Gene Emerson lying by withholding information for a long period of time and suffering no consequences or disqualification.
    – C.J. Mahaney’s blackmail of Larry Tomczak and C.J. Mahaney retracting his initial confession and claiming his sins were “ordinary.”
    – Knowledge of Brent Detwiler’s documents and how they showed Mahaney not practicing a lot of what he taught.
    – C.J. Mahaney fleeing CLC after his sin was revealed when in the Mahaney had forced other leaders to stay in their home church and submit to the other leaders there.
    – C.J. Mahaney hiding his son’s sin.
    – C.J. Mahaney’s sin being whitewashed.
    – Dave Harvey changing the rules for disqualifying leaders when he had problems with his own children.
    – Pointing out of all the nepotism that occurs within SGM.
    – SGM Leaders tendency to “ask” people to leave that question or disagree with how things are in the group.

    At least now people know when leaders abuse their power. SGM Member can then decide for themselves.

  29. S. Lewis says:

    To C. J. Mahaney Covenant Life Church October 1996 Circumstances have compelled me to write this letter to you. Since our last encounter I have been plagued by fee
    lings of disgust at the way I let you treat me. Your constant pounding on my shoulders, poking your finger in my chest and puffing up due to your perceived reverence as a “Pastor over 12 churches…..” and being a too busy man demand some response from an less than adequate individual with a less than adequate mind who lives in a world of suffering and not one so pleasant as yours. The Word says: ‘23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift before the altar and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come an offer they gift.’ Yet you choose to defy this at every juncture I try to deal with it. You tell me you don’t have time that you are a busy man. And you also tell me that I am arrogant and I say that I am not but upset and angry that I cannot communicate with you due to YOUR arrogance and sense of self grandeur that you are so popular and important. The only reason I was coming there was because there were people who I thought were my friends, going there and the seemly, abundance of fellowship. But now I realize it was all a cleverly designed, deceptive ruse. You run a circus. The Apostles went to the Synagogues and were taught by the Pharisees, whom Christ called the sons of the devil. So people can be taught even out of the mouth of an ass, like Balaam was. All the while I was trying to speak to you, you made it clear you were uninterested and puffed up and postured in front of me relying on your greatness as a pastor. You told me that you hoped I wasn’t being arrogant, in a threatening tone to me, as if to say if you perceived I was, you would have me removed by your lackeys. Yet you never stopped calling me disrespectful, surrogate names once it became clear I was not a major monetary contributor to your campaign of your quest for greatness. Are you trying to be another Billy Graham? You show one face on stage to tickle the ears of the listeners for money and one on one you show another. One of disdain for individuals who do not fit within your template of people you choose to associate with. You show respect of persons. The Bible says: If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 1John 3:17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? SO in essence, you have no love. You are basically a song and dance man. For years I have come to you; Matthew 25:24 Then shall they also answer him, saying Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a strange, or naked, or sick, or in prison and did not minister unto thee? And you have treated me like some base disgusting lout and not a man. I have implored your regard and audience and you have spurned me and treated me heinously. The last time was all I could endure. The name calling, went from “Sir,” to once you felt familiarity and recognition of me, to “Buddy, Pal, Fellah, Guy…” etc. No regard at all. You are a flim flam man and you run a side show for money. You revel in the fact that you are revered, lauded, looked up to and can wag your tongue around in your head to the delight of the hearers. 2Timothy 4:3, For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lust shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; I find no love, no charity coming from you. 1Corinthians 13:1, though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge” and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. You justify your position with your perceived gift of tongues to give you cause to believe you have the Holy Spirit and your ministers seem to gravitate to people who manifest this outward sign and wonder, and ignore those who don’t in your Alpha class. Clearly you have an agenda and it is not Biblical. For the Bible says: Matthew 24:24, For there shall arise false Christ’s, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders’ insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Mark 13:22 , For false Christ’s and false prophets shall rise and shall shew sighs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. The Word says: Hebrews 13:2, Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Yet you treat me with a severe heinous display of disregard. Yet the Word says: 1John 4:20 If a man says, I love God and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not hi brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? I have suffered your abuse and verbal degradation for years to be at a place where my friends were and to fellowship with them, even in their ignorance and I find I cannot tolerate your selfish abuse any more. You treat me with contempt and mock me every time I see you. Act as if I am insignificant and disregard me as a human being. Heathens who know not God treat me better than you do. You are a blight and a weed in the garden of tranquility. You seek the praises of men, clearly you have them. God is not the author of your life and actions, You have your own recipe for how to approach Him and it is through your works that YOU deem appropriate for the time YOU set aside to be allotted as you see fit. Anything that comes in between you and any other time, you address with scorn, disdain, arrogance, pomp, pride, egoism and you gnash upon it with your teeth as you did me in my humility when I came to you. Bragging about how many churches you over see and how I need to go to those under you to have them decide if the matter was worthy of your attention. I once knew of a man who approached you during the Montgomery County Fair with Gods business and you sharply rebuked him saying in my paraphrase, “I am with my family right now and I don’t have time for this.” As you did that first time I met you. You told me you were busy and didn’t have time and told me why don’t I go some place else. You, as a charade of a pastor. And you mock the very idea of basic human decency. To me you are a goat and your stage where you perform a circus. No doubt God can save those who come to Him through the mouth of an ass. So much more the man who is as pompous and arrogant as you are to me. I was accused of writing an angry letter the last time I wrote to you. That was the farthest thing from the truth. But this time I would agree. More like righteous indignation. I know I am no one. I know I am not the great C. J. Mahaney, pastor, author, father and friend to proselytes of hell everywhere? Matthew 23:15, Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Will ye hunt the souls of my people, and will ye save the souls alive that come unto you? 19 And will ye pollute me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save the souls alive that should not live, by your lying to my people that hear your lies? This is what teaching for money means in case your brain isn’t working right now. Ezekiel 13:22 Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life: You are a circus clown of a pathetic man and a perpetual torn in my heart. You, and all the men like you who seek greatness in the eyes of men with money to build everlasting memorials in your name and establish YOUR congregations so you can say, “See? Look what I have done. All this I did for God,” When you do nothing but lay stumbling blocks in front of the feet of men like me. Who doubt and waver, not able to stand due to ignoramuses like you who say one thing and do another and only do good in the eyes of all men to be seen of them but in private are abominable and Titus 1:16 They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. While you pounded on me, you smiled and stood me against the wall to give the appearance that we were having a nice friendly chat. All the while you scathed me and insulted me. Putting your hand on me against my will and poking me in my chest with your finger while you slapped me on my shoulders. For all points and purposes, you assaulted me. And you put your hands on me against my will, then blew me off to your reverence, said this conversation was over and you turned your back to me to talk to someone else that was new, with a snide smile on your face at the prospect of new money, tithes, coming in to your place to line your pockets and build more Synagogues of money laundering. I am swollen with hate. Hate you have cultivated in me. Hate you have planted. I struggle with is daily and I hate being under this burden. I struggle with trying not to hate you. I am not by any means retaliatory. And this is by no means a letter of threat. You should be so vain as to feel you are suffering for Christ’s’ sake you pompous hypocrite. This is not hate mail. This is my way of finalizing a 26 year ordeal to come in to a place that I had no business being in in the first place. And as far as my friends are concerned, no one is as important as I am going to sacrifice what I know to be grounded and true to have them as a friend. I can do without anyone who agrees with a two face farcical side show, snake oil salesman like you. You have your reward. You are the Reverend, Pastor, Author, Father C. J. Mahaney the great founder of 12 churches and noted Biblical scholar amongst our peers of men of notoriety. World traveler and Oscar Award performance nominee for his weekend antics on stage at his various show houses. But I know the real you. Puppeteer, liar, abuser, money launderer for a pretense making long prayers, abuser of the poor and homeless who come to him bedraggled and needy and sent away because he doesn’t have the time and we have no money. He is about God’s work when the simple fact of the Bible is not straining at gnats and swallowing camels. Not looking for things hard to see in the spiritual realm. But doing with what God gave you. Your surroundings, your community. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit your trust to true riches? 12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own? 2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile rainment 3 and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place’ and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool. 3 Are ye not then partial in ourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? 8 If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin and are convinced of the law as transgressors. Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Matthew 15:8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. Luke 14:12 Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors. lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. Matthew 23:28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Colossians 3:23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; 3John 1:5 Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; Luke 9:48 And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: And whosoever shall receiveth me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great. Luke 12:26 If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Matthew 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you , Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25:45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. So let me ask you this. What book are you reading again? And what book do you teach from every weekend? You strain at gnats and swallow camels. Your gut must be huge for you cannot see the man in the mirror at all. I know I am a fool, but what are you? Sincerely Stephan A. Lewis • As of this date, C.J. Mahaney has a 700 thousand dollar home from all the work he has done, ‘for god’. Living lavishly off all his tithes, offerings and books and efforts. {Malachi 3:8 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.} { Micah 3:11 The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the LORD, and say, Is not the LORD among us? none evil can come upon us.}

  30. Mary says:

    S. Lewis – I am not surprised at all to read about the arrogant encounter you had with CJ. I saw another pastor at CLC equally angry with someone. The arrogant dismissing high and mighty attitudes from CLC pastors when the bible says…..”not so among you”. Amazing how they think it is ok to be puffed up given the clear teaching of Christ regarding leadership. My how these leaders think they are entitled. So sad. I am sorry for your experience. For sure, it was not as it should be.

  31. Debra Baker says:

    As with others, I did a word search to find this site

  32. Persona says:

    I heard about this site from a couple of friends who left CLC.

    After reading a few testimonies, I was stunned to see how similar the stories were to ours. It was both horrific and comforting, at the same time.

    For more than half our lives, we suffered a boatload of deceit and manipulation and, witnessed even more, from men and women who were supposed to be caring for our souls.

    We will carry the scars for the rest of our lives and, as long as the same pastors are there, I cannot believe CLC will ever be a healthy place.

    But for us, God used this blog and others, to help us see our way out of that insanity. And, He has ‘restored all that the locusts had eaten..’ We are now members of a very healthy church.

    Many thanks to you all, and especially Kris and Guy for your wisdom and sacrifice. You may never know how many people you have helped but, I want you to know how much we appreciate you.

  33. Peony says:

    Longtime reader, post pretty much never, but since you asked…I joined the Fairfax church in 1985. Brent D had just finished ‘rebuilding’ when I started. Through years of serving in various ways, my husband & I interacted with many of the big names. My husband was drawn to being an insider because of the way information was controlled (being an insider was the only way to find out what was going on), but I always felt the need to remain on the outside. I had started to feel a sense of oppression to the point where attending church functions would leave me in a black mood for days. I assumed it was something wrong with me. I was relieved when we went on a church plant, if only because we were getting out of Fairfax. That sense of oppression followed me to the new SGM church, but I continued serving with my husband. In 2010 we were casually wondering whatever happened to Brent. A quick Google search brought up the SGM Survivor and refuge blogs and information about Brent being forced out. We found this interesting, but not terribly important to us at that time due to a health crisis. In 2011 when I received an email from our church that CJ was taking a leave of absence, I could tell they were covering something up. Google brought me to Survivors again. This time I read the stories, and recognized several of them. I knew the victims were speaking the truth because I had known them and had seen some facets of the events as they happened. When Brent released his documents, I read through them. I felt betrayed seeing the hypocritical behavior of leaders we had looked up to. When I got to the part about the blackmail, I was horrified. We discussed the situation as a family and realized we were actually afraid to mention to our pastors that we had read about it. That feeling of fear was a huge red flag to us! So I casually mentioned the documents to a pastor and was told to ignore them since it was just a disgruntled ex-employee. I replied that actually I used to know Brent and there was more to it than that. I asked the pastor if he had actually read the documents. He said no, he didn’t have to read them himself because SGM had sent them an email telling them it was just gossip and slander. The response from our local church just went downhill from there. I continued praying, hoping for a better response, a humility and openness to what God was doing, but when the final reports came out and the leadership declared they were in total agreement with SGM, God clearly spoke to me that it was time to leave. As far as I know, no one else in my church was the slightest bit concerned about the situation. I’m grateful for this blog because it helps me know I am not alone.

  34. lily says:

    We were in between churches. Somehow we received a letter in the mail with the “orbit” logo of SGM on it. Inside was a message of God’s powerful, tender love. I don’t really remember reading the gospel (as I understand it) there, but thought, wow, these folks understand that God’s love is so important to the Christian perspective. I googled SGM, and saw some detracting comments by bloggers down the list on the menu screen. I wasn’t sure what to think, and thought the logo was strange, but that they must have been appealing to the younger crowd by not having the Cross displayed, though I had seen references to “cult” in a couple of the blogs.

    When we visited a SGM church in our area, the people were kind, the lyrics to songs were Biblical and we heard the gospel presented, but didn’t realize at the time that their definitions of some essential doctrines were not what we as long time Christians, had believed. However, that sense of inclusion and the seemingly solid teachings at the time, lulled us, so to speak, even though I had that nagging feeling about a year later, that some important things might be “off” in doctrine and practice, and had stopped reading the Bible regularly. Then six months later, came a doctrinal bombshell that broke my heart and drove me to start thinking critically again, start cross-referencing Scripture again, reading for context and numbers of verses which supported or refuted teachings. I wanted to leave but my husband was loving being there, so, I turned to the Lord, like I should have done, and I also re-visited these blogs. About a year and a half later, my husband and I both left on good terms, and have since found a solid but more balanced congregation.

    The blogs truly helped me during that waiting period. I realized that they had been warning, not “gossiping and slandering”, and that what I had personally seen and experienced was not isolated. Partly due to the Lord working through Survivors, Refuge and Spiritual Tyranny, I’ve gotten back to where I was when the Lord first revealed Himself to me, the day I received Him as the Lord and my Savior. That sense of peace, joy, freedom and agape love are continuing to flourish in the simplicity of Christ and faith in His grace. I think God had us go through the time to grow and teach us. I do believe that SGM is Christian, but I would not recommend it as a denomination. I see some good values and some orthodox beliefs being taught, but I do not think of it as a healthy place, emotionally or spiritually, for several reasons. Thank you in Him, Guy and Kris!

  35. Wow says:

    I had just joined the CJ Mahaney fan club on Facebook. Someone posted a link to this site, and i came here and read the stories. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered I wasn’t alone. I had failed to meet the standards. My entire family had failed. I thought it was just us. :-)

  36. Recovering Pharisee says:

    It’s bizarre how similar each story is. I’ve heard it said that the devil likes to convince us when in places of despair that “I am the only person experiencing this.”

    Like most who have tried to leave a SG church on good terms and were basically not allowed to leave, I too went through a long period of questioning the things I was seeing and experiencing, feeling in my gut something was way off, but second guessing myself and constantly feeling guilt for even considering leaving. This blog was helpful in seeing that my experience was not atypical.

    Then there was the whole mess of actually leaving, being threatened and told my reasons for leaving were not biblical, then being shunned by nearly everyone when I did leave.

    My story is much less overtly dramatic than many shared here, and yet still it has been traumatic and deeply emotional. Some wounds will take years to heal, I’m sure. Learning to trust another church again will be awhile. Joining another church again will probably never happen.

    In hindsight, and as time goes on, more and more of what was amiss is painfully obvious. But until you make the leap and jump ship, it is SO much more difficult to see clearly. All of the subtle and not so subtle rules have all kinds of lingo to sound “biblical” and “gospel centered” to the point that, as someone else has mentioned, you start equating the extra teaching with the gospel and it all becomes one big muddled “gospel” mess.

    I, like the new believer Kris mentioned, was among those who got saved at a SG church. It only took a few months to become indoctrinated and start learning all of the other “gospel” things that I needed to conform my life to. It’s embarrassing to remember some of the judgmental things I blurted to my Christian friends outside the SG bubble as a new believer as though they were nonnegotiables. One I still remember clearly was reading Carolyn Mahaney’s book Feminine Appeal and concluding that it is a sin to stay up late or sleep past 5 am. Shoot, if that’s true, I have no hope and never had! I actually told a friend that she needed to examine her heart if she was up until a certain hour, that she was probably being selfish and not trusting God.

    I’m thankful for this forum helping me detox and gain footing again. It’s beautiful to read stories of those who were close to suicide, others who have felt done with Jesus, whose faith has gradually been renewed as they’ve learned they actually aren’t alone.

  37. Sick With Worry says:

    My story is almost identical to the one put forward by Kris and Guy. It is funny that they mention John MacArthur because I actually bumped into CJ at MacArthur’s church. I was out there on business years ago, had some spare time, and there was CJ at a conference. Like Kris said, this gave me a certain comfort level. I was also frustrated with my own church’s lack of accountability and expository preaching, and SGM seemed to get these issues right.

    I did not experience any “abuse”, and we have indeed benefitted from our SGM church. I want to be clear about that point…. if you are reading here and think there is something wrong with you because you are growing in your SGM church…. I understand. I was not a new Christian and I grew in my SGM church. But, the ambiguous polity and blind loyalty of the long-timers struck me as rather odd. When I heard a story four years ago about a woman at church inviting another man into her home to spank her children while her husband was out of town, that is when I got curious and discovered Survivors.

    The child abuse stories and resulting lawsuit shared here are horrific and the SGM “leadership team”, or whatever they are called, should be fired. I hope justice is served and if retirement funds are emptied, then so be it. But, for the most part, I think a lot of the SGM pastors have been trained in the SGM vacuum and can either be better equipped or replaced. I may be the oddball on the forum because my gut tells me that the churches can be salvaged. Nonetheless, real change is hindered because they just recycle the same people over and over.

    I am in a unique position here in the northeast (PA) in the sense that my business connections have given me close relationships to leaders and members in churches like CLC, CFC, Reading, Souderton, Corning and Cherry Hill. I can attest to the fact that there are some good pastors in these churches, but the Lord will not fully use them until they step up and lead on their own. Some of it is fear about their paycheck, and some is sincere loyalty. I have heard a lot of stories from Pastors and families about “how much Dave Harvey invested in me” or “how many hours Aaron spent with me”. I actually believe these men when they tell me this….. but I think their loyalty has become passivity, and they do not recognize it as such.

    While I know they are not the same, I tend to blur the lines between business management church polity…. not so much process-wise, but how people deserve to be treated and how you develop new leaders. I find it hard to have significant career responsibility during the week, and then watch SGM screw up on so many fronts. This is what finally drove me nuts!!! I cannot turn my brain off on Sunday or Care Group night and respect men that get away with missteps that would get me fired. I know there is some pride in my own heart, but where I come from the pastors and the congregation help each other. Keep in mind that I agree 100% with elder rule, but there is something jacked up about the way that SGM does it. We all make mistakes, but when it comes time to “speak truth into their lives”, or offer a different point of view, the pastors I know keep running back to Aaron, Prater, CB, Diamond Dave, etc… They totally miss the good men they have right in their own congregations.

    I have learned to look at it this way. I came to my SGM church with strengths from my work experience and being raised in a Christian home. I also brought weaknesses – pride, temper, and other “Respectable Sins”. Over time, my SGM church really helped me with these issues and my family benefitted. In short, my SGM church has strengths that helped me with my weaknesses. But, when it came time for me to use my strengths to help my church’s (SGM’s) weaknesses, there was no opportunity to do so. It was all one way, and I felt like my gifts were being squandered. So, for me, I just came to the conclusion that I needed to move on to where I can grow, and help others grow. I want to be use the gifts that the Lord gave me.

  38. Sick With Worry says:

    BTW – I said a lot in my last post and there are probably a couple pastors or care group leaders that can figure out who I am…. so be it. I would go on here with my own name but I still enjoy a lot of these friendships and it is not my goal to hurt anyone or share confidential info. I am certainly not fearful of getting into the front passenger seat of a car either. “Leave the gun, grab the ESV”, so to speak.

    But – I will say this. I think about this A LOT!! Tim Shorey is a gem of a man, as far as I know. He is a great role model and I think of him often when confronted with temptation or in a quarrel. Not sure how much he is getting roped into the SGM system now. But, he was never a real SGMer as far as I can tell. I only hope that Tim’s recent “promotion” is a sign of reform in SGM, and not a sign that he took a couple favors in return for his loyalty. In my opinion, he is one of the SGM pastors that could pastor anywhere, any time.

    To Tim Shorey – please read this!! Or someone please send this to him:
    I do not know what is going on…… but if you are doing this because you think SGM needs you, then God bless you and I wish you success. THEY DO NEED YOU! I want to celebrate this change with you and pray for you. If, however, you are doing this because you think you need SGM in the slightest, then please realize that the Lord can use you anywhere, and you should be in a local church, caring for local people. There are people somewhere that you can love for the rest of your years. People that will love you back, people that will love you as you grow old and love that will bear fruit for eternity. That is how pastors and congregants live together in community…. not this SGM mess. Please, do not abandon local church ministry in exchange for some kind of safety net.

  39. Kris says:

    “Sick With Worry” said,

    Keep in mind that I agree 100% with elder rule, but there is something jacked up about the way that SGM does it.

    It’s jacked up because the term “elder” within the SGM system has historically not meant what it means in the rest of the Christian world. In a “normal” church, “elder” typically means a mature, longtime believer whose leadership qualities have been recognized in some fashion by the other members as a group. In the rest of the Christian world, it is unusual for an elder to not have been selected by the congregation, usually through a congregational nomination and voting process.

    In an SGM church, however, “elder” has typically meant paid staff pastor, unless the church is small and cannot support a plurality of paid staff pastors. In those situations, there will be elders who are from the congregation and not employed by the church, but they will be – wait for it – selected by the pastor himself, or in their positions because the pastor approves of them. In other words, the congregation has no control over the selection process. The pastor does.

    While it is true that abuses of power can happen even in churches with a congregational form of government (for which I’m not necessarily even advocating, by the way), the way SGM approaches elders seems almost guaranteed to result in a serious lack of accountability to the majority of the church congregation. When a church is controlled solely by paid staff pastors, especially considering the bossman role that the senior pastor typically plays, it doesn’t really matter if these guys are called “elders” or board members or whatever – they’re going to be basically compelled to agree with whatever their boss wants. By definition, he is their authority. They will need, ultimately, to submit to their authority. So how much true accountability can there be?

    We can see how this structure plays out when we look at what has happened to CJ Mahaney himself. For a long time, whenever I’d wonder aloud about whether or not CJ actually has to answer to anyone, I would always be assured by one reader or another that CJ has a circle of accountability partners who all hold him accountable. And on a formal level, he answers to the rest of the SGM board.

    But of course, how that worked out in reality was that CJ did what he wanted, and if anyone (like Brent Detwiler) tried to question him, they were either blown off – with vague flowery “my dear brother” lingo – or ignored, or (if the person persisted, like Brent did) eventually sidelined. Gotten rid of. They all knew they had achieved their positions because they had demonstrated deference to CJ. Many had even trained themselves to become CJ clones. He was the man on top. So there can really be no accountability.

    And the people, the ordinary members whose donations bankroll the whole enterprise? They have no say whatsoever. None. There is no way for them to have a voice unless their pastors grant them one. (That, by the way, is one of the things that still nags me about the fact that CLC members are going to be allowed to vote on the question of whether or not to remain in the SGM organization. The CLC members never got a say in whether or not they could vote. They only got this voice because their pastors decided to give it to them. Their pastors still retain ultimate control over the process.)

    So…that’s a long and rambling way to say that SGM’s approach to “elders” feels different because it is different. The elders are selected by those above them rather than by the ordinary members. So the elders only answer to those above them. Accountability only flows upward.

    That’s what’s wrong.

    (Not to mention how deceptive it is for SGM churches to describe themselves as being “governed by a plurality of elders,” when what they really mean is that their paid staff pastors make all the decisions.)

  40. Kris says:

    This is probably obvious to a lot of you, but I feel the need to add to my #39 that it is extremely difficult to provide real accountability for your boss. If you know someone can fire you, how hard would it be to hold his feet to the fire and put your own job in jeopardy? How much easier would it be to just “go along to get along”? Especially when deference to authority is called “humility” within SGM and celebrated as the highest Christian virtue?

    It’s got to be especially difficult for the guys (“elders”) who don’t really have any other quick career options…which of course is true for most SGM pastors.

    SGM’s accountability structure is crazy and practically guaranteed to produce no true accountability for the men at the top.

  41. Persona says:

    Kris 40

    You are dead right. A close friend of mine got into the most trouble of his long tenure with CLC, when he asked a pastor if it was challenging for him to disagree with any pastor who had direct authority over his employment (yearly reviews and pay). That guy (who now lives in L’ville) became red-in-the- face-angry at the insinuation that he, or any pastors at CLC could somehow be less than totally objective…that they were, daresay…human?

    I firmly believe, the most significant error in SGM, is their doctrine of pastoral authority. It has to be the most lethal tool they possess. By it, they can do most anything they wish, and, in fact, they have, for more than thirty years.

    And, guess what? It is the one tool, CLC pastors insisted on retaining in their little tool box on Muncaster Mill Road.

  42. Stunned says:

    During the first year of sgmsurvivors (or sovgracemin.org survivors, I suppose), my friend, also an exSGMer, sent me a link to this site and suggested I read here. The last thing I wanted to do was even think of Sovgracemin / SGM. It was too painful to even consider.

    A few weeks later she brought it up to me, again. Once again, it was too painful to even consider. I wanted NOTHING to do with reading anything written by Sovgracemin or anyone who was ever associated with it.

    Shortly after that I went on a trip to New Mexico by myself. I had never gone off into the desert by myself and found the idea odd, but for some reason, I decided that that was what I was going to do with my vacation time that August. I was staying in a single room in a hostel. I found myself with some down time and decided that they only way to keep my dear friend from asking me to visit that sgm site again, was to just go read a tiny bit of it and be done with it for good. (Never again would I have to hear about SovGraceMin /SGM!)

    I lay on the wonky bed in that warm little room in the desert and found the website. I began to read. And I began to cry. And weep. And weep and weep and weep. I was not alone. I was not crazy. It wasn’t just me whom these horrible things happened to. It wasn’t just some odd incident. Other people saw the things I saw. Other people experienced the same things I experienced.

    I sat and read and cried and cried and read for hours and hours. Then days. It was such a time of healing.

    It seemed to me that God had sent me to the desert so I could be alone and read and rest and heal. Or start to heal.

    I was sure I’d never actually write anything on that sgmsurvivors site. But at least I could read and discover it wasn’t only me. (I think my “not writing” lasted a few days at the most.)

    I know this page is not all about a thanks to Kris and Guy but I can’t help but add that. I know it has cost you in time, money and worse of all, months and years of ugly attacks and accusations from those who don’t understand, from those who are frightened of the truth. Thank you for soldering along, despite the attacks. Thank you for loving so many of the people who have written to you behind the scenes, protecting their privacy and identities so that truth can be written, freely, without fear of reprisal.

    I am glad for you and all those who have had the courage to share parts of their stories.

    Stunned

  43. lily says:

    I realized that the vague synopsis of my personal observations, experience and eventual deliverance from SGM which I posted above, did not include any emotions other than the words, lulled and broken heart. What Peony posted just prior to me, regarding fear, and the feeling of oppression, were also very attendant for about 2 years after I first realized some things weren’t right, weren’t as they were being portrayed to be in our church, though after reading the blogs for months during the waiting period and after we left, I believe the SGM we were in, was probably “moderate”, compared to others. The fear of being found out and condemned for my disagreements with doctrine and practice, even persisted for a few months after we left, another reason the blogs have been vital. If any current SGMers reading here are experiencing that sense of fear or oppression, please know that they are also huge red flags from the Holy Spirit.

  44. Persona says:

    Lily 43

    We can be encouraged that God keeps all our tears in a bottle…and he will ultimately hold Sovgracemin accountable.

  45. Just Watching says:

    I found this site through a google search. I was looking for some additional info about SGM and was stunned to find this site and Refuge. I began to read. Could what I was reading actually be true? I asked a friend of mine if she knew about this site and she did. I kept reading periodically and when certain things came to light, I would come to the blogs for information. Heaven knows you don’t get information (or transparency) at church. And win the DetDocs came out, this site, Refuge, and later Nation, were the places to get for information.

    Kris, what I appreciate most is that you keep a level head and are careful in the words you choose. While you do not shy away from controversy, you do not throw gas on a burning fire. Thanks for that. And thank you for the freedom you give to those who are hurting, questioning, are angry, and have no where else to go. Thanks for pointing us back to Jesus.

  46. Christopher says:

    I believe I found this site when searching for information on emerging cults. I never was involved in an SGM church, but back in the late 1990’s was involved in another church that exhibited cult-like behavior similar to SGM. That experience led me to study about other “fringe” Christian groups. I have considered my study of other groups to be part of my healing process; this has also helped me assist others who are seeking to exit spiritually abusive groups by identifying current trends and techniques used by leaders in these groups.

    Thank you, Kris & Guy, for having this site. Not only for those who have exited or are thinking about exiting SGM, but also for those who are considering joining, and those like me who study spiritual abuse both professionally and as laypeople. An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure if it means preventing the abuses that have been discussed on this site.

  47. Bill Chaney says:

    I heard of this site in a SGM pastor’s meeting. It was labeled as a bunch of bitter whiners. I was intrigued and continued to read. The bitterness and anger was evident, but underneath the emotion was another reality which I had seen in my experience as a SGM pastor. The mind-control and authoritarian heavy-handedness was real. I passed it off as a biblical way-of-doing-things, but after a while things became hard to reconcile in my mind. Within a year I was de-gifted and that was that.

    There are levels of “secret handshakes” as you move up the chain in SGM. If you can distort your conscience, for whatever reason, and embrace the various”handshakes” then you can move up the chain. If your conscience gets in your way, you will either have to keep your mouth shut or you’re out. It was hard for me to keep quiet.

  48. Persona says:

    Bill Chaney 47

    Exactly! Our conscience got in the way too and, it was ‘their way or, the highway’ for us.

    Amazing, how predictable their mode of operation is, isn’t it?

    I am so glad you are on the outside, now.

  49. Unassimilated says:

    I was tracking comments and post that were critical of SGM. Just about every one of them would disappear within a week or two. Why? Because Thought I was loosing my mind. I started seeing things with SGM leadership behind the scenes that did not seem right. Because on the few occasions I asked about certain ‘handshakes’ if you will, there was always a bizarre non sequitur response. (I like the term you used Bill) The original site was something I had copied and bookmarked thinking it would disappear like the others. Yet it remained… Then it started to grow, and my life, and what I was experiencing came into better focus with each read.

    There was something amazingly liberating when I discovered that…”I’m not the only one!!”

    Persona, CLC Pastors are keeping the authority tool in their box of tricks?? Did I read that right?

  50. Ozymandias says:

    I’ve been reading Survivors for the last five years because I couldn’t — and still can’t — be loyal to anything about which I never hear anything negative.

    I’d assert that this site is a big reason my church — FFX — is healthier today.