Five Years – A Look Back

November 22, 2012 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

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.