Since this site’s early days in 2007, many people have posted about their experiences in the churches of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Here is a partial compilation of some of those stories. Please note, this is just a sampling. Many, many stories were shared in comments of early posts. Unfortunately, those comments were lost when we had to remove material because our database was getting overloaded.
I’m just going to share a little story and some minor commentary at the end.
One Superbowl Sunday, I was at a prominent SGM (then PDI) member’s house. There were dozens of others in attendance, lots of teens and younger adults. Remote controlling and commercial censoring were in full effect, snacks were in abundance, and everything was so biblical…as biblical as recently invented sports events centered around electronic devices can be. During a commercial break, I was sexually assaulted against an exterior wall of that house.
I was thirteen.
Not a single one of those appointed to ‘watch over’ anything, much less my soul, noticed a thing when I and the perpetrator went back inside the house. I doubt it would have mattered anyway. My family was in the outer circle, despite decades of $$$ and attendance. I started “rebelling” thereafter and refused to attend any church functions, and my parents surprisingly didn’t seem to mind (despite them not knowing the reasons for my rebellion). They severed ties with PDI/SGM 2 years later.
Why bring this up? I think it’s quite telling that despite the micromanagement of ‘biblical living’, horrible things have not only slipped under the radar of those ‘caring for our souls’ (etc., barf) but have been actively hidden, squashed, silenced. The pending lawsuit is long-deserved. I hope it ruins the entire organization financially and every single perpetrator and co-conspirator financially, mentally and physically.
I have a story to share. I know that you are not likely to judge but as I think about our story I judge myself. I still struggle with how completely sold out I was to this group. I made many bad decisions that hurt our family and I accept that. I hope you all can understand. To Sovereign Grace Ministries…yes it’s me and I’m talking.
We were reluctant care group leaders. My husband had been a group leader before we were married and continued to lead caregroups for 10 years. About the time our story begins I had come to realized what a toll care group leading had taken on me. I was spiritually dry and depressed. I would vacuum and cry because I knew we couldn’t get out of leadership. They would confront us on the sin of ….pride, discontentment, laziness, selfishness…pick one, whatever. My husband didn’t know, he wouldn’t be allowed to leave leadership so it would just upset him.
One morning I was awakened by a phone call from my pastor. My husband had left for work and I had been sleeping in. He sounded so strange as he asked me to find a sitter for our four children and come to the building for a meeting. He had already spoken to my husband and we’d all meet there. When we arrived all the pastors and two of the wives were there waiting for us. We were stunned, I was scared. I couldn’t figure out what I had done that was such a serious sin that all of them would be there to confront me. Several of the pastors were still on the phone with lawyers. When they came to the waiting area they realized/remembered that I was 7 months pregnant and I had driven myself 20 miles to the church. They told us to go home and they’d meet us at our house.
When all arrived, three pastors one pastors wife myself and my husband, they began their “meeting” by saying. “You are going to have an opportunity to forgive today.” After some flowery words they brought in one of my closest friends who lived up the street. She was separated from her husband at the time. Our pastor’s wife looked like she was physically holding her up. My friend looked nauseous and she was physically shaking. She sat across from my husband and I and told us that her oldest son (15) had been “inappropriate” with my 3 year old daughter. She assured us that my daughter was asleep and completely unaware. We of course asked for the details. She said that one evening, he was babysitting for us as he often did while we went to Homegroup Leaders and Wives meetings at the Pastors house. That night our daughter had wet the bed and he was going to change it when he felt tempted and had “fingered” her. I apologize for being so direct. He said that she was completely asleep and didn’t wake up the entire time.
We were confused. She was wearing pull-ups. Even if she had wet, the bed would not be wet. How did she know the bed was wet if she was asleep? How could he change the sheets and her pullup without her waking up? What was wrong with this story? We asked and we were somewhat blown off.
Someone somewhere asked why the boy confessed. I believe with all my heart that he thought we were about to piece it together. Remember how close I was to this mom. We talked like friends do. When I was worried about my daughter I stopped by her house and asked her what she thought.
The greatest indication that something was wrong was the night terrors. They were unspeakably terrible to witness. The first time it happened we were sitting in the family room and heard her scream. We both jumped up and ran to her room. She was fitful, screaming “Stop it! Stop it! I don’t want this!” We tried to wake her up, we told her she was dreaming and settled her back in. When we returned to the family room we were both shaken to the core at the panic in her voice. There was something wrong, but what? Then it started again, about 20 minutes later. Unbearable screaming, utterly indescribable. My husband picked her up and tried to wake her. She beat him with all her might. She was so violent. It was terrible to watch. He took her to the bathroom thinking the lights would wake her, he could but cold water on her face. I ran to the phone and called our family doctor. (This seems silly now) I thought she had a brain aneurysm. When I returned to the bathroom my daughter was hitting my husband and saying “I DON’T WANT YOU! I HATE YOU!” My husband was crying as he handed her to me saying “She doesn’t want me.” I put her in the car and took her to the emergency room. She came to and was completely lucid. Nothing came of the visit. I shared that story just days before his confession.
In addition to that, the evening he confessed he was acting out in a violent way at his house. Mom called and told me that he had been jabbing her with the broom handle and refusing to clean the kitchen. I told her (this was SOO God! Thank you God) I thought he might be involved in sexual sin. I don’t know why I said that, I had never felt that way before. I asked if she wanted my husband to come down but she wanted to talk to him alone. That night he confessed.
We were told that there were not other incidents and that our child had been completely unaware. We were encouraged with scripture that no Christian should bring his brother to court but rather the church should mediate. I certainly didn’t want anyone else to know about this. I didn’t want her to be excluded from playing with her friends, I didn’t want people to treat her differently, I didn’t want to be dealing with this at all. I wanted the pastors to leave so that I could pretend this wasn’t happening. I think I would have agreed to anything just to make it all go away.
The pastors stayed all day. I sat in a chair and stared all day. That night, when I was finally able to sleep, I had a dream. This boy came into our home while we were all sleeping and shot us one by one. First my husband, then me, then each child as they lay safely sleeping in their bed. I woke with a start, furious. I decided I’d never let that happen then laid down and went back to sleep. I dreamt I was walking down our street toward their house. I rang their bell and the boy answered. Through the screen door I put a gun to his face and pulled the trigger. Again I woke with a start. This time I could not sleep. I knew I was in trouble. I went to the kitchen and read my bible. Psalms. It was so confusing. Was my best friends’ son my enemy? Who was my enemy? I didn’t want to think about this so I decided to clean instead. All night long I cleaned and told my thoughts to shut up. The pastors called in the morning. They were all leaving for a pastors conference in Virginia Beach the next day and they’d all be passing our house on their way down. I told them my dreams, I asked for the booklet “How to be free from bitterness”
The senior pastor’s wife stopped by with books and a printed packet she had put together entitled “Topical Quotes for Times of Suffering and Trial” Here’s a sample.
“Among the most wonderful of God’s works are His chastisements… No pen is like that of sorrow for writing indelibly upon the soul.” (Was this chastisement, is that why my baby was molested?)
“Suffering teaches us to shrink from sin – even from the remotest and most indirect connection with it” (This happened because I was sinful? So if I suffer I won’t do it again? What did I do?)
“Riding out the storm is a lonely experience. You will never be more alone emotionally than when you are in the whirlwind of consequences (of sin). You will wish others could help you, but they can’t. They will want to be there, they will care, but for the most part, you have to ride out the storm alone.” (consequences of what? How much can a 3 year old sin to deserve these consequences??)
Never mind, I can’t even read through this packet any more. It’s 34 pages long. You get the gist.
Lou Gallow sat with this boy daily extracting more detail, which were relayed to Dave Hinders then to us by phone. It was by phone we heard of the “attempted penetration” which he stopped because she was crying so loud (As he told the pastors she was saying “ please stop, you are hurting me, my mommy and daddy don’t do this etc. etc.”) She was crying so loud that, although he was in an inner bathroom with no windows, upstairs in my isolated home in the dead of winter with all windows closed…. He was afraid that the neighbors, in their homes with windows closed, would hear and come to help her.
(God bless her she does have a good set of lungs!)
That night we decided to take her to our doctor. Before we could make the appointment the boy’s mother was on our doorstep asking us not to go. She said we wanted to punish him and we were just being mean and this is a quote “You KNOW ______would never hurt her!” Excuse me?? He did hurt her?? Mom’s on planet denial already. I understand I probably would be also. We were very patient with her. We didn’t raise our voice or throw her out of our home. We simply insisted that our child would be seen by a doctor. She said, “You KNOW that if you didn’t want to hurt my son you could find a doctor in the church that would examine your daughter and not report it!” Whoa.
We called our doctor who spoke with us and encouraged us to report it to social services personally, which we did. The police department contacted us and set up an appointment to interview all our children. That was so hard. We couldn’t be in the room with them but we could watch from a live lead in a private room. God bless the very godly man that interviewed my child. He was WONDERFUL and I am thankful. He was a Christian himself and the Grace of God was really with him. In that interview she described several incidents including one “in mommy and daddy’s bathroom because there is a bed in their room” . This becomes a very big deal later on. Our other children apparently were fine. We went to the doctor and proceeded to eat, sleep and breath for days on end. The detective interviewed the boy and called us two more times with more details, more events. Several times I had to get off the phone because I needed to throw up. What is important to note here is that the pastors did not hear these confessions, they didn’t hear what the detective knew, what we knew. The boy didn’t tell his mother what he had done and he didn’t tell the pastors. Guess what, the pastors didn’t want us to tell them what the boy had confessed to….. it would be gossip. We had been told of 5 incidents and one mysterious one that our daughter confessed to the police. It had been going on for 7 months that we now knew of.
Incidentally, the only reason I’m not saying the family’s or the boys name is for his poor wife, and because he now has at least one child. My heart goes out to them, and I wish the wife and child well.
Now, seven day’s after this boy confessed regarding our family, his maternal uncle currently living in the boy’s home confessed to molesting his nieces, the boy’s sisters. Guess what, the girls were supposedly asleep and had no idea what had happened to them. Mom was vomiting, her brother moved out. Social Services was called. The detective handling our case came to our home and gave us an update. Social Services came to our home and conducted a home study. Our daughter began professional counseling with weekly visits. The boy also attended counseling with a professional. One afternoon, on the phone with mom (I don’t know why I was on the phone with her) Mom told me that the counseling was not biblical and that she had to “undo” everything the counselor said during their sessions. She also said that she was helping him at home. She was teaching him not to be selfish since that was the underlying sin that led him to be “inappropriate” For example, she tells him not to leave bread crumbs on the kitchen counter because it is selfish. She also told me that he was sleeping on her bedroom floor at night because he was afraid to be by himself.
We told the pastors what we thought about the family was dealing with it but apparently they didn’t have any concerns. Okay, that’s the background. Soon the “counseling” begins.
Thinking about this made my blood pressure go through the roof, the baby wasn’t doing great. During the day I could control my thoughts alright but if I fell asleep my brain went on auto pilot. I would become nauseous, dizzy, and had pain in my abdomen. I couldn’t eat. My husband took a month off of work to stay home and made sure I ate and slept since I was so far along in the pregnancy. One month and 5 days after the boy’s confession the pastors wanted us to go to the boy’s house so that he could confess to us personally. Weeks prior to this meeting my husband and I had been studying forgivness. We met with one of the pastors and asked him a series of questions about forgivness. What did it mean, how did this look, what if I was still angry…I wanted to know what was the relation between anger and forgiveness, were they inseparable. What was righteous anger and was my anger sin or was it only sin if I acted on it or allowed it to become bitterness. Did feeling anger mean that I had not forgiven? What was the difference between not thinking about it (like so many told me) and stuffing it. I was angry that she suffered, unjustly and unnecessarily, that our family had been defiled, that it couldn’t be fixed. Was that sin? I was angry about his deceit and they way he tricked her into not telling. The pastors didn’t have many answers at all. As I can remember he said only God can experience righteous anger. Jonah 4:4 But the Lord replied, “Have you any right to be angry?” He encouraged us to read 2Cor 4 I meditated on my own sins. I viewed this boy as a child, an unconfessed victim of his own adopted father. His home life had certainly been a mess. I thought more about my own sins, my worst sins. Then I thought I forgave him. I don’t remember much about that day but we went, two pastors were there, the boy confessed in a very general way and we told him that we forgave him. (The very next time we said we had a problem with them the pastors said whoa now, you said you forgave him. As if it was a trap not a process, whatever.)
We were still part of the same homegroup and both families attending church. His family was required to sit in the balcony and we were allowed free roam of the church. My husband stepped down from leadership for a sabbatical and no one was told what was happening. One member in particular really liked playing 20 questions. She could just smell that there was sin involved. She would call on the phone when I had been crying and just couldn’t let it
The detective called routinely. He wanted us to take our daughter to Fairfax Hospital for a rape kit examination. They wanted to put my baby in stirrups, do an internal and take pictures both internally and externally. I was mortified. I cried, I pleaded with him not to do it. He made it clear that he needed the information to prosecute and that he had every right to order us to take her. I begged him to let her heal, to not traumatize her again. He agreed reluctantly.
Now our daughter’s counselor was very good. She heard our concerns that our child had been the victim and yet, all the kids were being isolated from their best friends and they were confused. My boy’s played with their boys, (not their oldest due to age difference) my daughter played with their daughter. Now the children were being isolated because of something they couldn’t understand. The counselor suggested a play date, excluding the offender of course, at a neutral playground. We tried to keep it normal and both mom’s expressed a desire to reconcile our relationship, certainly never to be the same but to come to a biblical place where both families could grow in the Lord peacefully.
Shortly after this our child was born, and due to all the stress during the pregnancy, went into NICU with complications. Shortly after the baby and I were home this boy had his first court date. I had heard nothing about it, we still don’t know what it was for. You see, because we were not the ones pressing charges, the county was, we weren’t included on the paperwork. The detective had promised to keep us in the loop but apparently the pastors had talked with the detective and told him that the church would keep us updated. The church was involved in every court date the boy had, but we were not. About a week later our 2 year old was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and between the baby, care of our daughter and now our 2 year old we were distracted.
When we went to celebration in July she became furious with us because her room was not close to the homegroup. (Legally he couldn’t be near her) She blamed me personally. She also had made a series of very offensive comments to me.
“__________Is a good boy, Look at how he dresses.” (Seriously, she said this. He rapes babies but dresses nice.)
“Most of the men in our church should have their names on the central registry” (Normalizing)
“He was just experimenting.”
“You know ____________ would never hurt your daughter.”
7 months after the confession. “I’ve already worked through this whole think. Would you please consider me and let it go.” So in 7 months she’s over the fact that her son and her brother are pedophile and her daughters have been victims. Wow!
“My son couldn’t even enjoy molesting your daughter.”
And my personal favorite “My son didn’t even have an erection.”
So when we get home from Celebration the pastors decide (due to all my complaining about her offensive comments) that we’re not doing well and we need to have a meeting.
A pastor comes to our house to discuss justice, mercy and vengeance. He tells us that he’s concerned we are vengeful and we need to pray. We did pray, we didn’t want to be vengeful, we wanted to be whole. We didn’t see it but we prayed all the same. My husband asked the pastor about the next court date and expressed his disappointment that no one had told us there had been one. Pastoral reply, “Why are you so interested in the court dates??? Do you have a carnal desire to see ___________ suffer???” “You need to stop thinking about it and stop talking about it and make a list of your own sins.” We then had another meeting with the offending family to try to resolve these issues. It was an unsuccessful meeting, however it slipped that there was another court date coming up.
There were several subsequent phone calls about that court date. We were essentially bullied, maligned and forbidden to come. A week later the detective called to tell us that was the final date. His sentence had been assigned, he’d be on the central registry and he would have probation. I cannot describe my rage.
Within weeks my children had whooping cough. They had been immunized but got it any way. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. After two months of whooping cough my son was coughing up blood and had to be hospitalized for very serious complications. This is when I finally pitched a fit. I was tired, I was soo sad, I was lost and none of our friends knew what had happened to our family, we were isolated and I was furious. I screamed and pitched a two year old hissy fit on the phone with my pastors wife. I screamed that I was mad at God, at you, your husband, the offender, his mother, and the lady and the check out counter. This got us more meetings.
We met with the pastors regarding the accuracy of his confession. The pastors insisted that we were making a big deal of out it. That is wasn’t as serious as we were making it out to be. Now remember, they didn’t hear the whole confession and the boy wasn’t ever going to tell his mother or the pastors the whole confession. Because of our daughter’s quote we don’t believe he even told the police the whole truth. We expressed this concern to the pastoral team. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from that time. “I don’t know any specifics about what __________ did or about any part of his confession and I don’t think I need to know to care for you. But I can say this, it wasn’t rape.” “___________ and mom have always been honest and forthcoming with us.” Oh but we are explaining to you that they clearly weren’t honest. So they agreed to call the mom and ask if we could sit down with the boy and clear this up. Mom say, “No.” And so that’s that. We are over exaggerating and they are truthful.
After this we had another meeting. The purpose was to ask the pastors to please tell the homegroup since there was an obvious detrimental effect on the group. (I had been called by one member who was pregnant and wanted me to throw the mom a party to cheer her up because she’s been sad lately.) (I was also asked to host a baby shower). In the meeting my husband also brought up mom’s inability to deal with the reality of what had happened and how that may affect her son’s progress. Our dear pastor said, “I know mom and she simply will not deal with it so why try.”
We had another meeting. I tried to explain how it was unacceptable to me to have my pastor, my covering, the one on my side minimize what happened to my child. I felt that I was not believed. That was not resolved.
Coming up on one year we finally tell two of our friends without the blessings of the pastors. The pastors subsequently tell one family in our homegroup that the boy had been “inappropriate” that no penetration had occurred. That we were having a hard time and making out to be much worse than it was.
I had officially checked out of the process that this time. Why bother. Our pastor had counseled my husband to let love cover a multitude of sins and stop coming to them with minor offenses. We had another meeting close to the one year mark. The pastor asked how we were and we said we were fine. (This becomes a big deal)
Okay, at this point the boy’s father committed suicide one year to the date of his confession. The day the police officer showed up at the mom’s door she called me and asked me to come and comfort her. I stopped in and expressed my true sorrow, I was truly sorry. I could not however be there for her the way she wanted. It was very tragic. There’s nothing else to say.
Now one month before the suicide we welcomed a new and improved pastor at our church. He could walk on water and all that jazz. Our pastoral team informed him of the situation and let him know that my family wouldn’t be any problem cuz we were swell people. We’d do whatever they said. Hummm.
That was in March, that December my husband let our pastor know that we had tried with all our strength to let love cover this but we still were not doing well. We had unresolved issues but this was the first time we told them our issues were with the pastoral team. Looks like more meetings. Now this time it was about them and surprisingly the meeting wasn’t arranged as quickly. While we were waiting for this meeting to be scheduled we passed a children’s ministry classroom one Sunday morning and saw the boy served the 2 year old class. We let them know we would not be quiet about it, it couldn’t ever happen, it wasn’t ever acceptable. They had created this problem by telling people that this boy had done anything truly wrong. So why would the organizers keep him out of the class if they truly needed his help.
My husband met alone with our pastor for lunch. He expressed again that we felt they were minimizing it. They simply said “We’re not minimizing.” Well there you go. At the end of their lunch the pastor asked my husband to pray about supporting overturning the charges against the boy with a letter to the commonwealth attorney or a signature on a form. My husband told him on the spot. No! My husband came back to him 2 weeks later at a Sunday meeting and told him that we would in no way ever support overturning the charges and that if we found out that anyone had tried we would stop it immediately and hire a lawyer.
Now this is interesting. We told them we had problems with them.. The pastoral team was causing us to stumble. No meeting was scheduled but, they did think that this was a good time to put my husband into a leadership class and pastors discipleship group so that he could come back into homegroup leadership. Wow, really?
Now we have been explaining over and over that the situation was far worse than the pastors knew. They never believed us but finally agreed that they would come to the courthouse with us and read the police report personally so that they could understand how we were not minimizing it. I called our detective to ask how this could be arranged. We were shocked to learn that we were not allowed to see our daughter’s testimony. Since we had not pressed charges, the county had, we were not eligible to view those records. We would have to have the mom of the offender sign a paper giving us permission to view the records. So we have another meeting. Mom says “No, she doesn’t want anything to jeopardize her June 6 court date.” Okay, we are not surprised she said no not at all, however we had been promised over and over that the pastoral team would tell us of any court dates. When we ask what it is for the whole room becomes mute. Finally mom agrees to let us ask her boy about his confession with the pastors there. Peachy, another meeting and with the liar. This should go well.
Nothing really important here the boy lied the pastors were satisfied and told us again “Mom and son have always been forthcoming and honest with us.”
So mom approaches me and asks me if I’ll sign a paper overturning the charges. My God what is wrong with these people. No No and a thousand NOs. She said her son wanted to serve in the military ever since he was young. Now he would never be allowed and he could be a teacher either. She let us know the Commonwealth Attorney would call and talk to us about it. We waited but he never called so my husband contacted him and went to his office. The CWA told my husband the court date on the 6th was to overturn the charges, the date had been sent and all the paperwork had gone through. We made another apt with the CWA. Scrambled to prepare a 6 page document outlining where we felt the boy was in his progress. We read it to the CWA and asked for the charges to not be overturned.
I talked with mom on the phone about our meeting with CWA. Mom lied through her teeth about it over and over. Finally she confessed and let us know that Pastor so and so counseled her to pursue reversal of charges without informing us. The pastors were on retreat again at the time of that call. We called the retreat and asked for the pastor to speak with us immediately. He was angry we bothered him and that we were accusing him. He said that yes had told her to go ahead with overturning the charges behind our back. He also said that we should have been fine with it. My husband told him we were desperately trying to let love cover a multitude of sins as he had counseled us and then he said something quite amazing. He said, “That’s your fault for following my counsel.” When I had a chance to speak with him I made it clear that I felt I no longer had a church. He had made it very clear that though he was our pastor assigned to us in this case and another pastor had been assigned to the boy’s family, it was clear that our pastor was working for them. We were not believed, we were not supported, we were alone without a pastor and without a church.
Okay, we had another meeting. We had told Lou Gallow that we felt we needed Mark Mullery involved. (Let’s see the confession was March 16th, this was May 23/24th two years later) That’s right, the senior pastor had not met with us once yet up to this point. These next two quote mark two of my favorite. I’m so glad I can laugh about this now. When we told Lou we needed Mark to attend the meeting he said, “Mark? That’s serious, how about Vince instead?” And when the meeting began sweet Mark came in the room and his first words were….”Now are you confident that this can be resolved, now that I’m getting involved?” Isn’t that cute. I don’t think he liked my response. It was something like, “I don’t know let’s see how you handle this.” Though I’m not sure about my response I’m sure about my attitude and he didn’t like it. It was a grueling meeting with mom lying like a rug for over an hour until she finally yelled ALRIGHT and admitted to the whole scam. She then looked to the pastor we had talked on the phone and my husband talked to at lunch and she said, “You encouraged me to do it, back me up on this.” The pastor looked at her square in the eye and said, “No I won’t back you up on that.” The pastors denied knowing that she even had a lawyer even though they had been to court with them. She left the room, escorted by her pastor and Mark asked if we were satisfied. I started to scream, very loud, mom heard me from the other room. I understand the office staff downstairs heard me as well. No I’m not satisfied! I can’t remember all that I yelled at the man but really what did he expect? He told me we couldn’t expect much from that mom because she wasn’t that smart. I told him he was seriously mistaken and I couldn’t believe he had put me in a position that I had to defend her. Not the first time in this.
So June 6th comes around and we show up. We were surprised the CWA handed a copy of our paper to the judge, to the offending family and read it word for word. It was wonderful and we were pleased, the pastors were furious; some couldn’t even look at us. Now I’ll give the gist of it, obviously all 6 pages can’t go here and wow are the Sovereign Grace Ministries people going to be pissed about this. You wouldn’t believe the ruckus this caused.
We outlined mom’s denial, boy’s comments, mom normalizing it. We outlined mom’s history, boy’s adoptive father’s history, the uncle molesting the children, boy molesting our child. We outlined how much people thought of boy, how he was honored as scout of the year, how he studied Sin and Temptation by John Own, how boy confronted others on their sexual sin and pornography while he was steeped in it. We outlined his lack of total confession and truthfulness. Here is the only quote from it I will post.
“Boy says that while he was raping my daughter he was scared. Too scared to enjoy himself. When we asked him directly about his fear and what he was afraid of he said, “I was afraid God was going to do something terrible to me.” He was afraid of being caught, he was afraid of consequences. Boy said that he stopped raping my baby because she was screaming and he was afraid of being caught yet he told us that he kept her in the bathroom about a half an hour longer and continued molesting and fondling her. He was afraid of being caught because she was screaming out in pain as he forcefully pinned her down and hurt her but that commotion and desperate plea from our three year old little girl was not enough to keep him from continuing to hold her and molest her while she continued to cry in pan and fear. Boy was afraid of the consequences, but not afraid enough to stop him from pursuing it further and further. And now you want to remove those consequences.” This makes me want to puke, my hands are shaking.
The judge listened to us but the pastors looked like they were ready to spit on us. I know this is offensive to read. But we were desperate to make our point. We had been lied to and deceived, someone had to listen to what happened to her.
Outside the courtroom the boy got right in my face and said “How dare you upset my mother like that” The pastors agreed with him. Everyone coddled the mom and Mark took us aside to tell us “Now the bridges are burned. We may not be able to reconcile now.” Mom went to the pastor that was supposed to be overseeing us and spent the evening at their house. They refused to talk to us about the paper. The day after the court date mom met with the pastor that had been assigned to her. My husband and I had a prescheduled meeting with our pastor and with Mark to tell them what had happened to our daughter. That night we were told not to go to homegroup. The pastor that was supposed to be working with us took mom to our homegroup and gave her an evening to talk and the whole homegroup honored her. Remember the homegroup had not been told what had happened to us yet. Every person in the room was told to take a moment to honor and encourage mom.
Every phone call to our pastors was met with I can’t talk to you it would be gossip. When we asked how it would be gossip if we wrote the paper we were told it just was.
One week later we had another meeting. This one was for mom to confront us on the outline. If this hadn’t been at my house I wouldn’t have been there. The only thing we got to was mom asking for forgiveness for deceiving and we explained the impact that had on us for the rest of the time.
Wow, it’s about to get really ugly.
Okay, so now it is June 20th. We had another meeting. All the time at the meetings we were not with our wounded family, I was just cooked at this point, just cooked. I was sick of beating our head against a brick wall. They clearly decided not to hear the confession about what happened to our child. They clearly believed the mom and thought that we were dramatizing this.
So the 20th meeting. Set up for us to express our concerns to the pastors. We told them that we felt over confronted at the expense of being walked through. We were careful to express that we value correction and still wanted correction but had been beaten down. We had been told the question of how to balance justice and mercy was pride. We were told we were sinfully vengeful although no one had asked questions to know our hearts. We were referred to Romans 7:12. We had extended mercy, we were aware of our sin tendency but we wanted help in rightly carrying a burden for justice that is very human for us as parents and a reflection of God’s character. We were told our desire for justice was rooted in the sin nature. Our desire to be in court was carnal. When trying to resolve our conflict with mom we were told our presentation was self-righteous. It felt to us like mom could get away with anything and we were getting slammed for everything. In this conversation she said “I wasn’t angry, I was hurt.(not biblical language, we’d have been slammed) then she said but “if” I sinned please forgive me. She covered all her bases, how were we supposed to respond? We could have used some help here. We thought the pastors had come that day to help resolve conflict yet everyone sat there and no one interjected to help. To have no one step in and correct this or help resolve it more completely and then to be confronted left us wondering what happened.
We told them we felt it was minimized. We felt counsel was that thinking about this, talking about this and even our concerns about the honesty of the confession were simply not helpful for us. This was said directly to us. It was important because we wanted their hearts and we weren’t feeling we had any advocates. When we expressed our concerns regarding the confession we kept hearing the recorded line” Boy has always been honest and forth coming with us.” If we come to the pastors and express that we don’t believe the confession was complete or truthful and the pastors respond by saying well of course it is truthful, then we are not being covered, heard, or believed. If we come to the pastors and say that we are concerned about mom’s inability to accept what happened because of the impact this will have on boy’s ability to deal with it properly and the pastors say “leave her alone she’s going though a hard time” (before her husband died) then mom is covered and we are not. None of our concerns were satisfied, none of them were pursued aggressively, none of them were answered. We had someone who would solely believe boy and mom as our covering.
When we said we wanted them to refer to it as rape the pastor replied. “SIN IS SIN”. When specific families were being told to expand our support it was present as a minimal event. When we said that the first incident could not have happened the way it was told to us nothing was done to investigate that further. When we met with Lou it was clear that our records of the confession and Lou’s records of the confession were different. Mom didn’t want us to discuss it with boy and this was never resolved. When we were concerned about the effectiveness of boy’s covering since mom was minimizing the pastor didn’t even know if the boy was still in professional counseling or not. When we relayed comments mom made that indicated minimization and normalization (Boy was just experimenting, he would never hurt your daughter, most men at the church should be on the central registry, undoing all the counselor said, comparing the outward appearance of other boys to her son etc) we were told the Mom was simply not going to deal with it so why try. The meeting the mom admitted to lying about the court date was concluded by telling us that mom and boy have always been honest with us. The boy’s confession could at this point been changed and summarized to something like this: I molested her but I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t have an erection, she never woke up and I didn’t hurt her. Why wasn’t anyone concerned about this boy’s condition.
The meeting concluded with an agreement that it was time to let boy confess to the homegroup.
June 26th Special homegroup for boy. The pastors came and my husband and I met with them in the back room. The pastors handed us a piece of paper contain the notes boy would use in the confession. We were asked to read the note then tell the pastors if we were satisfied. We said no. They’re so unhappy with us. It was again minimized. He read it to the group and the the meeting was over. While members mingled in the kitchen boy came upon the left side of a tall man, not knowing I was on the right side. Boy said, “I guess that will shut them up for a while.” He was twofaced, accusing and rude to us and meek and submissive to the team.
The next day we went to Jacksonville Fl. My sister, in another team related church had been through an experience at their Ga. Church and asked us to come down and speak to her no nonsense pastor, the one who had help to expose the, well the missing piece, the really big story that people on this post are still asking about. I need to look through my files and find the legally safe wording.
We’re in Jacksonville talking to the pastor that had just come from Georgia, before he went on the Georgia church plant he had been a member of our church. So we meet with this Jax pastor and tell him our story. He was very sympathetic. He encouraged us to go to the apostle and gave us a motivating story about how supportive apostolic leadership would be.
Okay, this is the “Story” it’s a second hand story. No names.
The story he told was of a man who had been part of Sovereign Grace Ministries VERY early on. This in crowd guy had a son with the same problem as boy. This kid’s problem started at his home church and the vicitm’s family had apparently been paid well to keep their mouth shut and told that if they blew the whistle that the kid’s family would make the victim out to be, well lets just say they’d discredit the family. This in crowd family was moved to another Sovereign Grace Ministries church then went on a church plant. At their church plant the kid had more problems. This time the whistle was blown and Sovereign Grace Ministries had a problem. How could this guy disappear? How could they hide it again. They whitewashed it and let him slip out quietly. He hasn’t been forgotten.
Okay I forgot to say that this happened Celebration weekend. We were supposed to go to Celebration and we just couldn’t do it. The car wouldn’t go that way. We just never showed up. When we returned home and the pastors returned home we contacted them. My husband had lunch with Mark and told him that we had been to Jax and we agreed with that Jax pastor that we needed apostolic oversight here. That night we got a phone call from Mark, he was desperate for us to no call John Loftness. He said, “If you have any confidence in my ability to pastor at all, please do not call John yet.” We agreed (I know, I know, what was wrong with us?? Too much Koolaid) So we agreed to examine our hearts and wait for the next meeting. One week later. . . . .
This time the pastors were all there and very stern looking. They said, “You are now the problem.” “This is now a discipline issue” What were we being disciplined for, well lying of course. The pastoral team was EXTREMELY worried about my husband’s “chronic” lying problem. I truly lost it here. I slammed both hands on the table and put my pointy little finger in the face of each and every humble and godly man there, looked them square in the eye and told the individually, you are the problem, and you are the problem, and you are the problem. My dear senior pastor looked at my husband and (again one of my favorite quotes of all time) said, “GET YOUR WIFE UNDER CONTROL.” Don’t you like that. I thought it was priceless. I did calm down so my husband could defend himself. He asked the team if they would please give him an example. One of the pastors said, Bro, I’ve got an example, it grieves me bro because I really think we could have helped you. Well the way I remember it you were here, at the building for a Royal Ranger Scout meeting, we were standing outside talking. Do you remember that man, do you remember the night. I asked you how you were doing and you said fine. But you weren’t fine were you, you weren’t fine and that wasn’t the truth.
Now the interesting thing is that one looked a little sick at this meeting. We still considered him to have a bit of a conscience. We found it very interesting that although he was not assigned to us, he did write is one of our nasty notes as we were leaving. It was as if he was being made tow the line. It was sad.
Now my husband emailed Mark and asked how we could now be the problem and Mark replied. “Your question, “Why are we now the problem?” is a good one. The issues we raised with you and your wife at our last meeting regarding truthfulness and unforgiveness aren’t new and, in fact, did not emerge in the past few weeks. These are issues which have been active for some time. When I got involved in May I didn’t bring them up to due to the nature of the original crimes against your daughter, the nature of your complaints about mom and boy and the nature of your complaints about the pastoral team. What has changed over the past few weeks is that, as we’ve worked hard to clear out other obstacles to progress, your sins in these areas have persistently remained, and have now become the chief hindrance to progress. This is what we sought to explain at your last meeting.
Please let me seek to clarify a second point. Several times you’ve said you don’t see where you were fundamentally a liar. I agree with that. What we’ve tried to point out to you is that you have regularly said things which you later contradict. This makes it difficult to know how to respond to you and the effect is one of deceit. NO one has accused you of being “fundamentally a liar. However, as we said last week, you must take responsibility for all your words.”
I wonder if when Mark reads this blog if he will take responsibility for all of his words.
So we went to John Loftness. We met with him at CLC. We told him that we came to our pastors and told them we had problems. Mom’s deceit exasperated the problem. Coming to the team to resolve the issues we gained more information which lead to deeper problems. When Mark became involved he made it clear by tone and words that he did not believe us, that we felt we were in sin yet would not tell us how and that he considered us the problem.
We told him that misinformation, miscommunication and deliberate exclusion from the justice process, deception from the pastors about the court dates, lack of follow through on our significant concerns and a lack of general care had damaged our relationship with our pastoral team. They refused to talk to us about vital issues, like the 6 page document. As we approached the pastors in an effort to resolve these issues we found them to be defensive, proud, discounting our input, and mired in “Why didn’t you say this before?”
John Loftness wanted to encourage us. I asked whether CLC had ever delt with such a problem. A fair question if he was supposed to help us. He said yes, a worship leader’s family had a problem (perps not vic) (This is quite pervasive it seems. I am recalling a second situation of this sort that happened at our church while we were still working this out. The one in the Ga church, the one that preceded it, and one we were aware of in the Jax church.)
In another conversations with Mark I had said that the communication had been one sided. We didn’t know what any of the pastors thought of us, our input, our state of mind. We weren’t reconciled to them but they were trying to lead us through reconciliation with Mom. When we asked for input they wouldn’t give it. Mark replied sarcastically “But you don’t want to be confronted.”
Being excluded from the justice system, we wanted to know why, what was behind that. Mark wanted to know why we were asking. I said, first to help the pastors grow (I’m sure he loved that) Second when mom asked one of the pastors to back her up that pastor said no. Yet is was obvious from his own recounting that he was not clear. I wasn’t willing to let mom take the rap for that. It seemed like the pastors were blameshifting. Mark replied, “This is not a conspiracy”
Mark said, “If everyone doesn’t agree with you, you won’t be happy.”
Mark explained that talking about the 6 page document was gossip because “If the paper had come to the pastors first we would have talked to you about it. But now that mom has seen it it would be gossip to discuss it with us.” But the pastors talked to mom about it and not to us. The pastors were giving mom counsel on the outline and arranging meetings to have her confront us without ever asking us if they understood it correctly, if that was all we had to say, etc.
I liked this one.
Mark…”Do you remember my question at the courthouse.”
I asked “What question?”
Mark replied ”Isn’t that interesting that you don’t remember my questions?”
“What was the questions Mark?”
“I asked, Why is this coming out now?”
“Well Mark, I had answered that many, many times for you. Do you remember my answer? You asked us that an average of four times a meeting so which is it do you not like our answer or do you flat our just not believe us?”
“Mom and boy have always been honest with us.”
John came, the pastors were all good and apologized. I left and never came back. There were more little issues, we reported a child abuse case and they demanded that we apologize. It was ridiculous. We sent a letter saying we were leaving, they replied saying we couldn’t because mom still wanted to confront us on the 6 page document. They also said they’d find out what church we go to and tell the pastors all about us.
What ever guys. What ever.
Here is a brief description of how the Fairfax Sovereign Grace Ministries church has in the past typically handled sex abuse issues in their church. This depiction can be affirmed by numerous former members who have had similar experiences. The perpetrator of a sex crime and his family were brought under the care of a pastor. This would involve counseling, accountability sessions and possible minor restrictions regarding movement in the church during services. People “at risk” were not notified. The victim and victim’s family however were usually confronted with opposition from leadership by minimizing and/or invalidating particular aspects of the victim’s story.
During 12 years as members of the Fairfax Sovereign Grace Ministries church, two of our children were sexually molested by two different people who attended the church. The molestations did not occur on church property. We had completely forgiven the perpetrators. However, the subsequent mental and spiritual anguish we endured both times in dealing with members of the Fairfax staff motivate us to write and “tell it to the church.”
To blog critics and all others who assert that bringing these issues to the light somehow undermines or weakens the cause of Christ, we would say the behavior of some in the leadership of Sovereign Grace Ministries does far more damage to victims of abuse and to a watching world. We share our story with the hope that those with similar experiences will be encouraged to write their own and bring it to the light.
In 1998, we discovered our child (child-A) had been molested by a young man attending the Fairfax church. We did not press charges and regretted this later on. The father of the young man was initially uncooperative in dealing with the situation until Steve Shank stepped in to handle it. This took place during the time frame Benny Phillips was stepping down from leadership. Steve Shank addressed our sin and asked the young man to apologize.
We forgave him; however, with minor restrictions imposed by the staff, he continued to intimidate our child during Sunday services to the point where our child was fearful of going to church. The pastors involved had little to say concerning this as it didn’t appear to be a priority for them.
In October 2007, we discovered child-B had been molested. The molestation had occurred 5 years earlier. Our child revealed to us what had happened only after being hospitalized 7 days for cutting and suicidal thoughts. We eventually found out through our child’s counseling sessions that fear and shame were the two main elements for not telling us about this sooner. Cutting was our child’s way of dealing with misguided guilt and self-loathing.
We then contacted the Police Department and pressed charges. The detective assigned to the case came to the house and listened to our child’s story. The young man confessed the crime to pastor SW (CJ Mahaney’s son-in-law). We were given the impression that pastor DH had also heard the confession. Two and a half years later in March 2010, we were told he did not hear the confession. Pastor LG (our brother-in-law) was also in the loop as we had asked him to supply information requested by the detective but no information was given. Pastor LG said to me, “Have them send the request to us in writing.” The detective told us later on that Fairfax had been “uncooperative” in the investigation…. a fact they later denied.
During the investigation, pastor DH told us they “had a dilemma” because they were caring for the young man and his family. There was no visible concern shown during this time for our child by the staff including our brother-in-law and his family. No inquiring phone calls or emails. Our child had just been discharged from the hospital. When you leave a Sovereign Grace Ministries church for disagreeing with or challenging leadership in any way, all relationships you once had there are severed.
Sometime during the following months, my wife noticed her sister (wife of pastor LG) not speaking about anything associated with our child’s legal case. She would consistently change the subject when our child was mentioned. This led to a meeting we initiated with pastor LG in January 2008. As no other logical explanation for the silence could be seen, we asked him 3 times if he had advised his wife not to discuss with her sister our child’s case. 3 times he answered no. We were told in a future meeting by pastor VH that pastor LG was in fact legally instructed to inform his wife not to discuss the case with her sister for 2 days so that the police could complete their investigation. When this was brought up to the leadership, our questions were ignored. Pastor LG lied to us and was not held accountable.
As a result of our own research we became aware of the fact that pastor LG’s wife was not covered under Virginia’s clergy privilege statute. According to the legal process, she could have been liable for any information she had regarding the case, and therefore could have been called to testify in court on our child’s behalf. Pastor LG (our child’s uncle) put great effort into avoiding this possibility. The truth is that this scenario presented a conflict of interest to pastor LG and members of the Fairfax staff as they were caring for the young man and his family as pastor DH had mentioned. Exactly why this presented a conflict is a mystery.
The trial took place in March 2008. Prior to the trial, not knowing how the young man would plead, we asked pastor DH to come with pastor SW ready to give testimony on our child’s behalf if needed. Pastor DH made it known to us they were not coming to the courthouse. I explained to him if the young man pleaded not guilty, our child would then have to get up in front of the court and reveal the entire ordeal along with answering questions from the attorneys. It didn’t matter, they still weren’t coming. His response to us was, “I have my church’s reputation to consider.” Not sure what pastor DH meant by this statement. In a future meeting with the Fairfax pastors, he claimed not remembering making the “church’s reputation” statement and had no recollection of emphasizing the fact that he wasn’t coming to the courthouse. I called the detective and asked her to issue a subpoena for both pastors to appear in court. Fairfax would later claim there was no need for us to request a subpoena because one had been issued months before. It wouldn’t have made any difference if we knew this information or not. Pastor DH expressed to us they weren’t coming. They also stated in a future meeting they knew the young man would plead guilty therefore coming to the courthouse wasn’t necessary. In reality, there was no way of knowing how he would plead. Nevertheless, he was not held accountable for this and it was put back on us.
Pastor’s DH and SW were at the courthouse for the trial. Pastor LG came a few minutes before the trial and left. His wife did not come. She also didn’t make any attempts to call her sister during the days leading up to the trial. My wife was abandoned by her family. The young man pleaded guilty to a felony.…. Our child did not have to get up and speak to the court.
A short time after the trial, my wife attempted to communicate to her sister the hurt, frustration and lack of care she experienced from her sister and family and it was put back on my wife.
What followed during the next 2 years included a series of meetings, phone calls and emails involving Fairfax and Covenant Life leadership, 2 mediators, and an Sovereign Grace Ministries pastor from South Carolina.
In December 2008, our child (Child-A) now 18 at the time, was greatly affected by Noel’s story after reading it on the blogs. Our adult child contacted C.J. Mahaney [founder and president of Sovereign Grace Ministries] and asked him what Sovereign Grace Ministries had to say about this. Not sure what the response was however, our adult child also described to C.J. Mahaney what our family had endured from the Fairfax staff and as a result a meeting was arranged. We met with C.J. Mahaney and he listened to our story. He was grieved by our experience and asked permission to contact the Fairfax staff. We asked him if he had any knowledge of our story. He said he did not. Over the next few weeks we received emails from him, thanking us for the opportunity to talk to us. He assured us that the Fairfax staff desired to meet and discuss these important issues with us.
In February 2009, the first meeting was set up at our church with 5 pastors from the Fairfax church, C.J. Mahaney, and a neutral third party attending on our behalf. Two days before the meeting pastor LG appears at our door wanting to apologize to our child. We had not seen nor heard from him or his family for 11 months. We asked him what specifically he wanted to apologize for and couldn’t get a straight answer. He wouldn’t answer our questions. Given the state of emotional torment of our child and to block any further confusion, we decided it would not have been in our child’s best interest and said no.
During the meeting, the pastors apologized for not caring for us and poor leadership but avoided our questions. We left the meeting confused and with a new list of questions. A few days later, we discovered that C.J. Manahey had given our neutral third party a check for $5,000…….
A short time after, C.J. Mahaney urged us to begin meeting with pastor MM to iron out our difficulties with pastor LG and his family.
It is important to mention here that although we agreed to meet with pastor MM, we were well aware of Fairfax’s intentions to separate the mishandled sex abuse issue from the personal concerns we had with Pastor LG. The opportunity to minimize the situation to a “family disagreement” had presented itself. They could now step away from the spotlight of “sex abuse issues in the Fairfax church and the way leadership typically responds,” and let the light shine elsewhere.
A number of unresolved issues with pastor LG going back many years still remain. Some of which are extremely painful for my wife and me. However, in March 2009, we began meeting with pastor MM with hopes of seeing some accountability leading to possible reconciliation with pastor LG. We presented pastor MM with a list of questions for pastor LG. After 4 months of meetings and numerous emails, none of our questions were answered. At the final meeting pastor MM said to us, “I find pastor LG to be a man of integrity.” And then he dismissed us. (Simple logic would say, if pastor LG is a man of integrity, we must be liars) We were stunned….Fairfax had once again put the issue back on us.
In a future meeting with the pastors, pastor MM apologized for not answering our questions concerning pastor LG ….but still didn’t answer them.
We contacted C.J. Mahaney and expressed our dissatisfaction with the meetings and final conclusion. He suggested Peacemakers. We declined. He then offered to have Sovereign Grace Ministries pastor JB from South Carolina step into the arena. Our options were diminishing but we were not going to walk away from this. For the next 8 months we spoke to pastor JB on the phone at least twice a month. Our conversations focused on the “family disagreement,” and Fairfax’s response to sex abuse. We had many questions regarding both topics. Questions that had already been asked a number of times and not answered. During our many conversations with Pastor JB, he assured us that Fairfax would now be handling sex abuse related issues differently. After 8 months our questions for pastor LG and a few hard questions for Fairfax were still not answered.
There never were any changes made in how they handle sex abuse…our story proves the point.
In March 2010, a second meeting with Fairfax leadership had taken place. Kenneth Maresco, Pastor JB, and Jim P., moderator for the SGM Refuge blog were also present. We requested that pastor LG attend as well, but he declined. When questioned about this beforehand, pastor LG said, “I do not think my presence in the meeting would be helpful.” And Fairfax backed him up on this. The meeting was arranged in part as a follow-up from our time on the phone with pastor JB. Some of our questions were answered however, a few of pastor JB’s answers had suggested that everything was just a big misunderstanding; that somehow we misinterpreted or perhaps judged motives incorrectly regarding both pastor LG and the Fairfax staff. Also in this meeting pastor DH forgets important information and pastor VH reveals that pastor LG was in fact legally advised by their attorney’s back in October 2007. But in the January 2008 meeting as mentioned above, pastor LG told us 3 times he did not tell his wife not to discuss our child’s case with her sister. And Fairfax was ok with this.
In the same meeting the pastor’s would not let us ask any questions related to pastor LG. It appeared they did not want to deal with the fact that he had lied to us. However, they did want to apologize a second time for not caring for us and poor leadership. We accepted their apologies but there were still unanswered questions. But one hard question was answered; my wife asked pastor MM why they do not warn people at risk when a known sex felon is in their church. His response was, “that perpetrator could grow up and sue us for defamation of character.” So in pastor MM’s mind, the possibility of being sued sometime in the future takes precedence over protecting children from known sex offenders.
An obvious pattern can be seen throughout the story; the pastors were eager to apologize for not caring for us and poor leadership expecting us to forgive, but they would not answer our hard questions. And for some reason they were protecting pastor LG from having to account for the issues we presented. Our forgiveness was premature.
In May 2010, we accused pastor LG of lying, specifically but not limited to the January 2008 meeting we had with him, and 2 consecutive apology letters he had written that were filled with deceptive statements. This led to an “accusation against an elder.” Fairfax’s solution to this was to hire an outside third party mediator to settle things. A professional conciliatory Christian mediator. He was thoroughly impressed with the fact that C.J. Mahaney was involved with this. We reluctantly agreed to do this and had regrets later on. I challenged Fairfax to show us where in the bible do we find that an accusation against an elder is brought to an outside mediator who gets paid for his services? They ignored the question. They were steadfast in maintaining that the struggles we had with the church and pastor LG stay separate and confined to a “family disagreement.” The reality is Fairfax had relinquished their responsibility in dealing with an accusation against an elder so they could walk away from the entire situation. Maybe they were afraid of uncovering pastor LG’s pattern of deception. We had 2 sessions totaling 9 hours in which pastor LG persisted in avoiding our questions and claimed not remembering key facts. The mediator’s summation at the end was that pastor LG had not been deceptive and that we were “sinfully craving answers” according to James chapter 4. We were put in the same category as murderer’s and idolaters!
How did we end up here?
We started out down this road as parents of 2 children who were molested and ended up being thrown into the ring with murderer’s and idolaters!
Only Sovereign Grace Ministries could orchestrate something like this…..
Fairfax was indifferent to the fact that we disagreed with the mediator’s conclusions.
In June 2010, we had our 3rd and final meeting with Fairfax, initiated by Kenneth Maresco and pastor JB as a follow-up to the March 2010 meeting. Kenneth Maresco was not happy with the pastor’s apologies in the March meeting. Apparently they needed to be a little more sincere. They were given the opportunity to apologize once again for the same things they had previously apologized for, not caring for us and poor leadership. But this time, the apologies were more detailed.
A short time after the meeting, our final interaction with Sovereign Grace Ministries was at hand. As a last ditch attempt to at least work out our family difficulties, I asked pastor LG if he would agree to meet with us and another SG pastor. He said, “that aint happening.” And Fairfax backed him up on this. We wanted a person he worked with to witness his response to our questions. We asked C.J. Mahaney, Kenneth Maresco, and pastor VH to intervene and be the witness and they all declined.
Pastor LG’s evasive behavior supported by a shield of protection from Fairfax is a symptom of a much deeper problem in their governmental structure…
The Fairfax church has a history of treating victims of sex abuse and their families in similar ways mentioned in our story. We know 2 other cases and have talked with someone who mentioned knowing 5… all involving the Fairfax church. Noel and Grizzly were told by pastor MM their story had inconsistencies… “Inconsistency” is an Sovereign Grace Ministries euphemism for lying. What pastor MM really meant to say was Noel and Grizzly were lying.
In the minds of Sovereign Grace Ministries leadership they hear from God and tell us what God is saying. If what ordinary people discern fails to line up with their program, they are dismissed. This way of thinking allows them to continuously reinforce their spiritual agenda on a congregation conditioned to think they are being truly humble by accepting this. Where in the New Testament do we find this type of church government?
The faith and well-being of child-B had been severely affected by the molestation and 3 year ordeal with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Our child’s professional counselors have documented the adverse affects of family abandonment and how this contributes to thoughts of guilt and shame in a young child’s mind. Our child’s perception of a loving God had been distorted.
My wife feels the pain of family abandonment plus the abandonment of a church she was a part of for 12 years.
Child-A is grown up and doing very well.
For some reason Fairfax had chosen not to deal directly and not dig deeper into the claims we made concerning pastor LG. He was not held accountable for lying to us. Fairfax hired a mediator who ultimately made the decision as to who was lying and who was telling the truth.
A few of the pastors expressed genuine sorrow for the way our child and my wife and I were treated. Their apologies are nullified because in the end we were the one’s “sinfully craving answers” – murderers and idolater’s according to the paid mediator’s assessment.
We assumed Fairfax was in agreement with this.
Fairfax would say our questions for pastor LG were answered. Here’s the problem; we weren’t there to hear his answers…. They were now finally able to close the door and move on to more important things.
The Fairfax staff told us they have made significant changes in the way they now handle sex abuse issues in their church. Assuming this is true, we applaud their efforts.
The question is how will Fairfax handle their past failures? Will they publicly confess their past sin before our family and the other families who have been hurt by their failure to lead, care, and protect, or will they remain silent and hope no one else comes forward. Will any restitution be made to the families involved?
In light of the damage done, has anyone involved disqualified themselves from professional ministry?
The clergy privilege statute exempts church leadership in Virginia from having to divulge any information to the authorities regarding sex crimes committed by church members. We had contacted a Virginia state senator who had been in the process of pursuing legislation to change this law.
The actions of Fairfax leadership in handling sex abuse in their church are good examples why this law needs to be changed. The senator from Virginia heard our story and agreed.
SET FREE’S STORY:
I’ll begin with a brief background. I am “Set Free”. I am 22 years old and I am the oldest of 6 children (3 girls and 3 boys). One of my brothers is 12 years old and he is autistic. He has no verbal communication ability. My family and I were members of Sovereign Grace Ministries (formerly known as PDI – People of Destiny International).
In January 2009, my parents were officially divorced. They had been separated for just over a year. The divorce has been hard on the whole family, but was a long time coming to get away from my father. I know that this may sound horrible, but I had been hoping that my parents would divorce for several years.
When my parents were younger and I was an only child, a friend of my mother’s invited my parents to Fairfax Covenant Church in VA. My parents accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior and were baptized and became members of the church. (As for the details of all of this, I am a little hazy. I was rather young.) Over the next few years, my family religiously attended church on Sunday mornings and home group meetings on the designated week night. Our family grew in number. I was young but I remember participating in worship and going to Sunday school. For awhile things in the church were quiet. Things at home, however, were another story.
As a newly converted ‘Christian’, my father quickly found comfort and acceptance in the love-bombing that Sovereign Grace Ministries / People of Destiny leaders abundantly showered on him. The way that Sovereign Grace Ministries / People of Destiny leaders praised my father for demonstrating good leadership skills in his ability to ‘run a business’ [a lawn service] only served to nurture in him a mindset of an already sociopathic pattern of behavior. My father had always had an unbelievably controlling and manipulative personality, but as a member of Sovereign Grace Ministries / People of Destiny, this was not reprimanded in any way, in fact, the way that my father “controlled” his family demonstrated “good leadership skills” according to Sovereign Grace Ministries / People of Destiny.
In the same way that my father was encouraged by the church to raise “obedient” children, he was also taught to view my mother as the person that was put on this earth to serve him. The Bible says, “wives obey your husbands”, but the church as well as my father took this one way out of proportion. Even before my parents were saved and became members of Sovereign Grace Ministries / People of Destiny, in his anger, my father would throw my mother across the room completely airborne while she was pregnant with me. He wouldn’t think twice about lurching into completely physically abusive behavior. After they joined the church my father treated my mother like she was his slave. If something wasn’t done, he would yell at her and try to intimidate her physically. If the house was messy he would yell at her and tell her what a horrible mother she was and what a horrible house-wife she was. [when I say yell, I mean to put-down, condemn, discourage, belittle etc.] This behavior from my father had been present since my parents were first married, but once they became members of the church, the behavior only got worse. (Now as far as what happened behind closed doors between my parents, I only know bits and pieces, so my mother would have to be the one to share the details, but I can remember hearing screaming and yelling and crying when my parents fought.)
After just a short time had passed (about a year after my father was ‘saved’) and our family became more and more entangled in the church, the leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries / People of Destiny asked my father to take over leadership of a home group. I would like to make sure that I am clear, Sovereign Grace Ministries asked my father, not my mother and it did not matter to the church leaders whether my mother wanted to be a home-group leader or not because since she was the wife, she was expected to do as her husband instructed.
Once a week, a designated group of families would meet at one of their houses and the home-group leader would lead the group in worship, prayer and “learning”. This may sound horrible, but I hated home-group. When home-group was at our house, it was an all-day event to get the house cleaned, the kids fed and bathed before people arrived, and all of the other things that go along with a family with 3 kids would have to do to “entertain”. The worst home-group nights were when my father would come home from work and then start to fight with my mother. My father would rant and rave and storm through the house yelling at my mother and yelling at us kids. Nothing was held back, sometimes even up until 5 or 10 minutes before people were supposed to arrive, my father would make our lives miserable.
But as sure as I am here, when the doorbell rang, our house looked like a scene out of a movie. Happy children, a happy wife and the list goes on. We were expected to wipe our eyes and dry our tears and paste a smile on our faces so as to make a good impression and show the other members of the church what a happy, Godly family we were. When I got older, I can remember telling my father in the blows of our arguments, that he was a fake. How could he yell at us and treat us like s**t and then turn around and pretend like he was so holy and godly that he was chosen to lead home-group?? I saw the hypocrisy even then.
It wasn’t long after that, that my father felt that our family was being called by God to move to Atlanta, GA on what would be our family’s first of 2 church plants.
It wasn’t long after the baby was born that my mother realized that he was not where he needed to be developmentally. My mother battled with doctors and specialists trying to find out why the newest addition to our family was having so much trouble meeting the developmental milestones, one of the most significant being a difficulty eating. On top of home-schooling 3 children, taking care of a 3 year old and spending the better part of some weeks in and out of doctors’ offices and specialists’ offices, my mother had to deal with my father and the leaders of the church. I can remember hearing my parents talking about what they needed to do to make sure that their son would grow and develop appropriately and instead of being a supportive husband and father, I heard my father say to my mother that they needed to listen to the leaders of the church and follow their instruction …. The instruction was to basically act as if nothing were wrong with my brother and “leave it in God’s hands”. The leaders of the church told my parents, my mother more specifically, that she needed to trust that God had a plan for my brother’s life and that he was developmentally slow for a reason and that she needed to stop worrying and step back and allow the hand of God to work in my brother’s life.
You see when, my parents became members of the Sovereign Grace Ministries church in Northern VA, my father was already abusive and controlling with my mother. When he saw how the leaders of the church encouraged women to obey their husbands and only added to my father’s misconstrued ideas that the men were in control and that when it was all said and done, the husband was “in charge”, he quickly adopted their teachings and thoroughly enforced them in our home. This was not just with my mother, as evident by what I have already told you, but also with my siblings and I. My father was in control at all times and if for some reason he felt that one of us was threatening his authority or challenging him in any way, he immediately reacted with discipline, punishment or some other means to ensure that the person “defying” him was put back in their place as quickly as humanly possible. Things only got worse the longer that we were members of the Sovereign Grace Ministries church.
Several months after my family moved into our new house and my father moved down from Atlanta, while still home schooling all of the children and taking care of an Autistic son, something horrible happened that changed our family drastically. During the days my mother would be on the phone for hours and hours at a time and after several weeks of this happening, I began to ask questions. I wanted to know who she was talking to for all of these hours. I asked, it was my aunt [Noel]. But when I asked my mother why she was on the phone for so long and asked why she had been crying, she would never answer my questions.
After a while, the phone calls continued and I began to see notes around the house. They were only half notes with simple words. After my mom would throw her notes away and walk away, I would go and get the notes and try to figure out what was going on that was keeping my mother on the phone with my aunt for all these hours. I would find some notes that wouldn’t make sense and then I would find notes that scared me. One in particular I found said “child molestation”, the name of a person that I knew and the name of his son, “rape” and some other things, but I can’t remember them. I kept the notes that I thought had some meaning and waited. I had collected several notes that my mother had thrown away. I became more and more concerned after the note that I had found with the names of people that I knew and words that I knew meant something bad had happened. I tried asking my mother casually about the phone calls, but never got any answers.
Finally, after I had collected enough notes to have some idea of what was going on, I went to my mother one afternoon and told her that I had been reading her notes and that I knew that something was wrong. I told her that I wanted to know what was going on. I was about 14 at the time. My mother sat down with me and I knew that she had something to tell me. She told me that she had been spending so much time on the phone with my aunt because something had happened to my cousin. She told me that a boy that I knew had done something terrible to my cousin. This boy was 15 years old and had been babysitting my cousins while my aunt and uncle were at their home group meetings. When the other children were watching tv or had already gone to bed, this boy had taken my little 3 year old cousin and raped her repeatedly. This had gone on for several months. I cried. My mother was crying. I couldn’t believe that this had happened. I asked “how could the boy do this to my cousin. Our families were friends.” I had grown up playing with this boy and his siblings. His sister was a friend of mine when we were younger. My mother told me that the same horrible thing had happened to the boy and his family. I remember that I couldn’t understand why this boy would do something horrible to someone else just because something horrible had happened to him. Hadn’t he been hurt enough to know how it would effect another person? Why would he want to hurt someone else? Especially my little cousin.
I was so angry. I wanted justice. Something had to be done! I asked my mother if he was in jail, but she said that my aunt and uncle had gone to the leaders of the church to find out what they needed to do and the leaders of the church told my aunt and uncle that they needed to find it in their hearts to forgive the boy and let God have vengeance on Judgment Day. [For any of you who have not already done so, please read Noel's story. Noel is my aunt.] I couldn’t believe it! All this time, for all these years, I had thought that the church was looking out for us, for my family and for the other members of the congregation, but I realized that they had no interest in our well-being, they only cared about themselves and about their reputation and it didn’t matter who was hurt along they way as long as they profited and benefited from it. I asked my mother if my aunt and uncle were going to make sure that the boy went to jail and she said “We are going to do everything that we can to make sure that the boy does not get away with this.” I told her “I want to help!” So basically, PDI / SGM leaders told my aunt that she was supposed to “leave it in God’s hand.” Does this not strike anyone as wrong?
For several months my mother continued to have regular phone calls with my aunt [Noel], but as the conversations went on, it soon became clear that the church had not and would not be taking any action to assist Noel and her family. My mother would tell me about some of the things that were happening with my aunt and her family, but I soon came to realize that the perpetrator that had violated my cousin and brought such hurt and devastation to my family was going to go unpunished. This evil person who had terrorized my little cousin was going to walk away with no remorse and no repercussions for what he had done. I was boiling with anger. [and still am when I think about it]
Not long after everything that happened with Noel’s family, the uncle of the perpetrator [who lived in Jacksonville] began attending our church. [I will try to keep this brief as it is hard to follow, this story was told to me by my mother who heard it directly from the wife of said uncle] The perpetrators uncle was home “watching” his 5 children while his wife was at work, the oldest boy was sent to the kitchen to take a pot of boiling water off the stove [since the father was busy watching porn on the computer] and it spilled on him causing 2nd and 3rd degree burns. As a result of the little boy’s injuries, the perpetrator’s mother and siblings came down from Virginia to help out with the other kids while the oldest boy healed from his burns. The perpetrator’s mother got her brother and his family gets hooked up with the SGM church that my family attended. The leaders’ wives were instructed to help out this family by taking them meals and helping to “minister” to them in any way possible. The perpetrator’s uncle and family were assigned to my parents care group.
[So a quick recap, a boy rapes my little cousin and then the church tells my aunt and uncle to 'forgive' him. Then relatives of the rapist are assigned to my parent's care group by the leaders of the church and my parents are told that they need to 'minister' the relatives of the rapist.]
As my mother carries out her assigned duties to ‘minister’ to the perpetrator’s relatives, she is contacted by the perpetrator’s aunt. She informs my mother that she has found her children doing horrible, horrible things to each other, to other children, to animals and to themselves. I cannot even bring myself to write the words, it makes me cry to think about it. But when the woman told my mother the things that her children and husband were doing, my mother told the woman that she needed to get her children out of the house that they were in immediately and that if she wouldn’t, my mother was going to call social services. The woman said that she would take care of it, but my mother felt that she needed some guidance so she called the pastor’s wife and told her the situation.
The pastor’s wife was in agreement with my mother that something needed to be done and said that she would talk to her husband about what they needed to do. Just a few hours after the phone call that my mother had with the pastor’s wife, she got a call back from the pastor’s wife and it was explained to my mother that she was in sin for gossiping about the other family and that she was wrong and should not butt in where she was not needed. Basically, when my mother called the pastor’s wife for guidance, she was ultimately told that she was in sin for gossiping and that she needed to step out of the situation. Children [all under the age of 10] were being raped and raping each other and the pastor said that my mother was sinning because she gossiped.
Well when the perpetrator’s uncle found out that my mother said she was going to call social services, he called a friend of my mother’s and asked for our address. He said he was going to come and kill my mother if she called social services. When my mother found out she called my aunt [Noel] and after explaining everything to her, Noel said that someone needed to call social services without question. So Noel decided that she would call them. Upon receiving the call, social services set up an interview with the relatives of the perpetrator, but because the report was made by a 3rd party, the charges were dismissed, but that didn’t mean anything to the perpetrator’s uncle. He was angry with my mother and so began one of the worst years of my life. [On top of the things that I am about to share, I was also dealing with my severely sociopathic father who was hell-bent on controlling me]
The perpetrator’s uncle began calling my house and when we would answer the phone, all you could hear was breathing on the other end, then he would hang up. [he also called and threatened Noel in the same manor, in addition to that, the pastors told Noel that they needed to call and apologize to the uncle and to the perpetrator's mother as well] In addition to harassing my family with phone calls, the uncle followed me to school and to my work. I would come out of school in the afternoons and see him sitting in his car watching for me. I would come out of work at night and he would be sitting in the parking lot watching for me. One morning, I came down to the kitchen and saw him on the back porch of my family’s house. I was terrified. Whenever my parents would leave the house, the phone would immediately ring. I knew that he was watching my family and I knew that he saw my parents leave. The calls would increase in frequency when my parents left the house. I would come out to my car in the mornings to go to school and see him sitting down the road in his car just watching our house. I couldn’t sleep, I had nightmares … It was a long year.
I was terrified that he was going to hurt my family. My mother had told me about the threats to kill her. The hardest part was having to see him and his family in church on Sundays. I knew that he was stalking our family and then there he was sitting in church, protected by the pastors, who defended him when they told my mother that she was sinning by gossiping. It was impossible to feel safe. I felt so alone, but I also felt a need to become the protector of my family. Until now, I had not shared with my mother how the uncle had followed me because I felt like my mother already had enough going on in her life not only with the other children but with my father and the church as well.
Every Sunday I sat in church wondering how the pastor could cover for a sexual offender. Every Sunday I wondered where God was in all of this. Every Sunday that I went to church and saw the uncle, I questioned God. It was bad enough what happened to my cousin, but having the relatives of my cousin’s rapist not only attend our church, but be assigned to my parent’s care group was salt in the wound. Surely this was not God’s plan. Was I wrong to question God … maybe. Was I wrong to question what the church was doing … I don’t think so.
I would continue on, but I’m afraid that it would become a bit redundant and what I have to share would soon turn into a book instead of a blog post, so I will close with one last bit of information. My family continued to attend the Sovereign Grace Ministries church for a couple more years in which, not only was the abusive child rearing continued, but my father’s hunger for control continued to grow and become more and more unreasonable and abusive. As my situation at home got increasingly worse, my mother began to step up to my father and took action against him in order to make it a safer home environment. My father was asked to move out of the house and did so for about 6 months. When my father left, the house was much more peaceful. There were still a lot of issues, but at least my father wasn’t there to throw lighter fluid onto a well lit fire.
Though things got momentarily better at home, my mother still had no support from the church leaders when she shared with them that she had my father move out for a while. She had gone to them asking for guidance and instead of being helped, was accused of sinning and not obeying God and his command to obey her husband. She had no help with the younger children [mainly my autistic brother] and after about 6 months my father moved back in to the house. Things only got worse again. In the church there were a few more incidences that took place which resulted in both myself and my family being constantly reprimanded and reminded of our place in the church. When I was 17 and still being spanked by my father, I left the church along with my mother. [my father and some of the other kids still attended for a few more months] I still had one more year in high school and there were a few teens from Sovereign Grace Ministries that also went to my high school, but as soon as I stopped going to church the would completely ignore me in the halls. I would see someone who I had gone to church with for the last 5 or 6 years and when I would greet them, they looked away from me as if I was a stranger that they had never seen before. I ceased to exist in their eyes.
My mother’s friends all stopped speaking to her as well. People that had helped my family when my mother had a baby would no longer speak to her. And since we were only allowed to ‘fellowship’ with other members of Sovereign Grace Ministries, we were completely alone when we left the church. I knew no one else and my mother was in the same position. When I finally left Sovereign Grace Ministries, my belief in God was severely weakened and I had no desire to even speak to anyone that was a Christian or claimed to be. I was angry with God for the things that had happened to my family and I blamed myself for not being strong enough to defend my brothers and sisters from the abuse of my father and the church. I moved out of my parents house 1 week after I graduated from high school and hardly spoke to my parents for almost 3 years.
Recently I have made an effort to attempt to go to church now and again, but still have so many emotions that overtake me when I so much as think about church or the things that have happened to me. I do honestly hope that someday I will have a stronger relationship with God and that my faith in Him will not be shaken by the evil things that I have seen and continue to see. Please keep my family in your prayers. God bless!
My mother got involved with Covenant Life Church (Take and Give, Gathering of Believers, People of Destiny International, Sovereign Grace Ministries, whatever) beginning with a festival called Jesus’76, got pregnant by one of the church members, and was advised to marry him. She did. So I along with my siblings were all in this church by default.
My mother was concerned when her 11 year old daughter had been “acting out”, having a “bad attitude” towards her husband, and the church had advised my mother to admonish her and demand she respect him as godly children should. When she found out a few years later that actually he had been sexually abusing her since age 11, she immediately called the pastors (John Loftness and Gary Riccucci). They handled this situation in the worst ways possible.
I could detail a hundred things they did next which only made the situation worse by blaming the victims, covering up the crime, and supporting the pedophile financially and legally. They even sent my mother to her care group leader for counseling who told her to God wanted her to send her daughter away so that this man could stay in the house as the head of the household.
Despite all of their pleadings my mother insisted on justice and pressed charges. They had claimed they were looking for counseling for my mother and her child, when really they were biding time, retaining legal counsel for this man, to allow him to turn himself in as a show of repentance. They pressured her to ask the court for leniency for this man who had abused her child. They testified as character witnesses for him in court. He had repented and been forgiven, just like that. We were all warned not to tell anyone in the church, even though the abuser was still attending — it would be gossip.
But my mother was not submissive enough and since she refused to ask the court to not send this tithing man to jail, we were all put out of the church, out of the school, and the pastors told my mother, our “poverty was self induced” because she had not been submissive to their guidance. My mother pleaded with the church for help, but they only further demonized her.
Having been a homemaker and mother for years in the church approved way, she had little means of providing for her 9 children. She went and got a minimum wage job and worked until it almost killed her. Our electricity was cut off, our house was in foreclosure, we were pretty much starving, and she came down with pneumonia and was hospitalized. Having offered no help so far, the same pastors showed up to let her know they would make sure all of us children were taken care of while she was in the hospital.
We ended up all split apart, turned over to the state child welfare division, and spent the next several years separated in foster homes, institutions and shelters. But the pastors care and concern only ever was for the molester — they arranged for the kids to “visit their father”, and arranged for my sister, the victim, to have to sit down in a meeting to accept his apology, so he could be forgiven and resume membership in the church.
There’s a long list of decisions they made that negatively affected and re-victimized my family. Once I got older, I started sending a letter to them both, every year, listing the things they had done, telling them I wanted to be a constant reminder of their actions. They NEVER once responded or acknowledged these letters (and later emails). I would drive by their building (locals call the MALL OF JESUS laughingly) and spit out the window at it. Years went by and I continued to send the letters, even when I knew they would never respond.
One day last year I ran into someone I had gone to school at Covenant Life Church school with. He asked about the family and I told him what had actually happened. He asked if he could go to the pastors to question them about it, and I of course said yes. He did just that, and the initial response much later TO HIM from Gary was:
“Please forgive my long overdue response. Thank you for making me aware of your conversation… and for your obvious heart for the care of anyone drifting from fellowship with Christ…for whatever reason. Yes, John and I had primary pastoral responsibility for the family during what was certainly a most tragic, grieving and painful experience. The sin committed and subsequent fragmentation of their family was one of the saddest experiences of our ministry. Because of the sin and alienation there was a need for separation, so John provided care for the mother and children while I walked the father through the necessary legal process in taking responsibility for his actions. As she got older, no doubt much discussion took place between her and her Mom about that very difficult season. I would be glad to talk personally to you, to answer any questions and to explain the steps we took and why, as this tragedy unfolded.”
Maybe I’m pessimistic, but it sounded like an offer to take the opportunity to justify and rewrite history from an advantageous viewpoint. I have no reason to suspect any different. If they felt they had done something wrong, surely they would have responded to MY letters over the years. I wrote an excruciatingly long email and sent it to both John and Gary suggesting an apology would at least help thier reputations since they cared so much about that. After this church member again followed up about it with them, and in the midst of all this C.J. Mahaney stepping down chaos, they finally responded to me. Gary, in part, wrote:
“It appears that, at least in some of your comments, there may be some misunderstanding of what we did and why. Our hope is that a conversation and some clarification about the past may be a means of God’s comfort and grace to you for the future. Please contact John or me if you feel that a conversation might be helpful.”
John, in part, wrote: “Our care (or lack of care as the case may be) for your family during those years was one of the most challenging tasks that we have encountered as pastors in more than 30 years. That is not to excuse any failures on our part, but to let you know that, in the light of today and what we have learned since then, and especially in light of getting your perspective, we would see deficiencies in our care. There are gaps that we may be able to fill in and things we remember that may broaden your understanding, but please don’t take that as making any defense or let it take away from the deep sadness we feel for your experiences in the aftermath of Dave’s sin against your sister and mother, and beyond that, to your entire family.”
Both replies ended with an offer to meet and discuss everything. I have really struggled with wanting to believe they would have the decency and integrity to actually acknowledge and admit to their wrongs, apologize, and leave it at that if we met. But the words that keep jumping out at me are: “misunderstanding” and “broaden your understanding” and “gaps we may be able to fill in” and “sadness we feel for your experience” (as opposed to sadness we feel for our actions). I don’t trust them. I also feel like now as an adult I have a CHOICE I didn’t have as a child. I can choose to not sit and hear a whole cockamamie roundabout justification with a good dose of biblical rhetoric thrown in, especially since I feel like that would only serve to royally piss me off. And since I’m not a Christian, I am not bound by by doctrine to react with humility or reverence. And, by the way, I know they read these blogs, and I don’t care if they know it’s me on here, and I don’t care if that offends them. I realized that my intention all along was to attempt to have them acknowledge what they did, hoping that if they actually SEE it, I mean really GET IT, it wont happen to anyone else.
My entire life was negatively affected for years, by their decisions, in ways that would make you cringe to know, and if they don’t “get it” then maybe others will. So I will decide whether to have this meeting or whatever, but if I do, and if they are reading this, just know that I will NOT sit through a justification session. I’m not looking for the truth — I already have it — I was there – I have all the documents to prove it — I KNOW. I just feel like they are sorry it came out, sorry it was told, not sorry they did what they did. I don’t know if their apology is forthcoming in a meeting, or if it will be more like damage control — like “sorry you were hurt, now shut up about it already”. I guess there’s only one way to find out.
I share this with my heart breaking: for our daughter, for us, and for all those others who have been traumatized by the sex abuse cases mishandled by Sovereign Grace Ministries. And I wanted to share our story so that NO ONE from Sovereign Grace Ministries could use our “case” as a supposed “well-handled” pastoral victory, since we mostly cooperated with their advice. AND I wanted everyone to know that the serious effects of any sexual molestation at any age are devastating to the victim and their family for many years. It doesn’t just “go away” after forgiving!
We were in Covenant Life Church for over 20 years and served as care group leaders for over 5 years and only left a few years ago. We feel that “going public” with this story, that has been a secret sex abuse case in Covenant Life Church, will perhaps help others to come forward with any other cases. We have not personally confronted the pastors about this, but after hearing exCLCer family’s HORRIFIC treatment by Covenant Life Church, we felt that they do not deserve that respect.
In 1993 our daughter was sexually molested by the fourteen year old son of a close family friend from Covenant Life Church, while he was babysitting for us. It was a week before her 3rd birthday. [This was about 6 years after exCLCer’s case] I thank God I had taught our daughter what “good touch, bad touch” is, so she could tell us and possibly protect herself or others from sex abuse. The morning after this happened she came into our bedroom and told us. We were in shock, but for her sake remained calm, and asked her a few questions to verify. [Excuse my bluntness] He had taken off both of their pants and underwear, laid on top of her, fondled her, and French-kissed her. He stopped at this point and did not penetrate her. Her reaction at the time of the attack was to not move or cry out–she was in complete terror. We immediately called the police. We knew it was the law to report any sexual abuse committed against a minor.
The first thing out of the pastor’s mouth, when we called him was, “Don’t call the police.” When we told him we already had, he communicated that these “things” should be handled in the church, and definitely made us to feel that he was displeased with us going outside the church to the secular authorities for this crime! The pastor called the father and the boy did confess that morning, after denying it repeatedly. The pastor immediately got on the phone with the police trying to arrange for the family to be able to turn the boy into police, rather than a police car to come to their house and embarrass them. From that point on, we felt that to the pastors, this crisis was all about the perpetrator and his family, to keep his identity secret and rally around him and his family, caring for THEM and counseling them as they navigated through the secular legal system and the crisis WE had caused by turning him in.
We did have one meeting, within a couple of days of the abuse, with the pastor and his wife. They commiserated with us. We felt the gist of the meeting was “yes, this is terrible, it is OK for us to be angry and hurt for a few days or weeks, but after that you need to forgive and forget”! We were told not to tell our care group or anyone. And not talk to the boy and his family. Besides a brief phone call or two after all of this and the eventual “reconciliation” meeting, 6 months later, with that family and the pastor, we had NO counseling or follow-up care for us or our daughter. We had several close family members in Covenant Life Church and we had close friends who LIVED with us at this time and we couldn’t even tell them! Essentially, we were on our own with all the deep grief, anger, and feelings of violation. We walked through this horrible crisis completely alone, with close family and friends and our care group all around us, having NO idea what we were going through!! God alone was our refuge and we had each other.
A week or so after the molestation, one of the other pastors called and shared how sorry he was for what we were going through and then asked me to write a letter of leniency, so that this boy would not go to jail and just get counseling [exactly what happened to exCLCer’s mom]. I agreed, mostly because he was only 14 and it was a first offense. At the time, I was extremely vulnerable with the grief of what had happened to our daughter and what this pastor said meant a lot to me, but looking back now I feel manipulated by his words to make sure that I wrote that letter. What if I had refused? [like exCLCer’s mom] Would we have been excommunicated?
We did not know and could not find out any details from the perpetrator on the molestation, even through the pastor, until the meeting 6 months later. In other words, we did not know if there had been any penetration or how much fondling there had been—it was torture for me as mom and as a woman to not know. I feel that my emotional needs were given “backseat” status to the other family’s privacy and care. We were not equipped by appropriate psychological counseling or advice on how to parent a victim of sexual abuse. Our daughter struggled as a little 3 year old to forgive this teenager’s crime against her. She had nightmares for months afterwards. Many months later, we went for prayer to this pastor and another, and they did pray for her, but they said the nightmares “might” not be from the sexual molestation, directly minimizing my concerns, even though nightmares are a known effect of sexual abuse!
This is not over. She is now 21 and is a committed Christian, by God’s grace. BUT she STILL has trouble sleeping alone. She STILL has had seasons of night terrors. She also has other EMOTIONAL SCARS directly related to the molestation and has pursued psychological counseling, now as an adult. Although, we have forgiven and prayed for this boy, now an adult member of Covenant Life Church, last I heard, the results of his crime on our daughter may be a lifelong struggle for her to overcome!
EXCLCER’S MOM’S STORY
“I have “moved on” in many ways, and even though I may still have “more miles to go”, I really was not thinking about Covenant Life Church, or even Sovereign Grace Ministries. My goal for my life, that I have spoken often of, is to find some way to “help facilitate a way for women and children who are being abused to move out of their situation”. Whether it be by just being an example, or by lobbying in Congress, or counseling, public speaking-whatever I can-I want to use how I have been victorious to encourage others and make a difference that way. It was not until my daughter showed me the SGM Survivors forum, and I read SGMNOT’s story, and saw how the very same things I “excused away” in forgiveness were still continuing, and even worse, that I realized this is where I need to start! Then, when I heard Cory’s response to the abuser in their midst, and knew that people were not being made aware as he so reassuringly stated-that was when I knew I had to speak up. I have healed-there is still pain, but it does not cripple me-I am strong enough to be a voice now. A voice to help tear down a system that will continue to allow children to be abused, and their mothers to feel there is no way out! You ask what our goal are, that is mine. I want to know for a fact that children are protected above and beyond the molester. I don’t think they ever will [change the way they handle child molestation cases], but that will not stop me from speaking my voice, because despite what they do or don’t do, I will make sure that the mothers and children know there is a way out, and it is worth it to go that path! It would be awesome to have them join in with that, but all they seem to want to do is minimalism it, excuse it, and “forget it”. I cannot change what they do, but I will not give up.”
“I actually called Mr A the morning after I threw him out, to tell him I was going to spend as long as it took in prayer, to decide what to do next. I was in shock, I am not sure if I expressed any kind of forgiveness in that conversation-I still was not even fully aware of all that happened (I found out most things from the police). Enough things happened through out the following years that I often pointed to things, telling GR that this “showed me there was not adequate repentance”. I will not list them here, but will be listed in the chronicles I am writing. I believe that once I did not write the letter to the judge, it was “all over” as far as my welfare was concerned. That is when “I chose to bring poverty on myself”. You would have to know my daughter to understand, I think, but she so desperately wanted to hang onto a Fairytale ending…she so wanted to compliantly please everyone, hoping in her “perfection”, she would eventually get the “fairytale ending”. She moved into another Covenant Life Church member’s house (she was their main babysitter for their 4 kids…hmm, how convenient)..when a young man wanted to marry her, they told him he needn’t bother to talk to me about it, that I wasn’t much involved in her life. They encouraged her to marry this guy, and then told her that in order for her to be happy in marriage, she needed to meet with the pastors and Mr. A, to “resolve things”. I told her then not to go, but she so hoped it was her path to the fairytale, and everyone at Covenant Life Church basically encouraged her to not listen to me, because I “was not walking right with God”. She met with him in a room full of male pastors (I do believe she took one friend with her). He asked her to forgive him, she said she forgave him, then the pastors said now that everything is resolved, she would not mind him returning to Covenant Life Church anymore, would she? Of course she said no, she did not mind! She told me that was when she decided to leave, and started going to her fiance’s church. (They are not married anymore) I do not want to share too many details of her life, as she is so happy now, and does not want to be reminded of any of this. I would not ask her to relive any of those days for anything-ever. As ExClcer wrote, please no one try to encourage or discuss any of this in any way with her. She may one day be at a place, like I feel, where she is strong enough to stand up for another, but until (if) that happens, she will initiate it. She needs these years of happiness now.”
“I actually was not forced to call him-I did that all on my own. You see, just the night before his acts were discovered, I had said to him “When someone points out a wrong to you, you put all your energy into hiding it, rather than changing it. I don’t even know what dark secrets your hold in your heart” This was about 24 hours before I found out what was actually happening. For a very long time I “felt” something was wrong, and even mentioned things to the pastors. They all told me not to worry about him, that they were “ministering to him”. Just two weeks before all was revealed, I had been told by a care group leader we were in counseling with, that it was me that was preventing our family from moving on with God (I really never was submissive enough for them). So, with all of this, I called Mr. A the morning after I asked him to leave, to express to him that I would not “take this as my ticket to ride”, that I wanted to be sure whatever I did was what God was saying. I actually did not make the decision to not reconcile for at least another 3 weeks or more. Once I KNEW what God wanted me to do, there was no turning back, and none of them could convince me otherwise. I got my answer from hours in prayer, seeking God for His answer to me, not the words of men. When I told them so, they should have stopped arguing with me then-I gave them Scripture after Scripture-there really was no arguing about it. That alone put us on an adversarial path. Despite that, there were some true people moved by God to help us-people in Covenant Life Church, just not any pastors. The pastors not only did not really help, but actually hindered other people who would help, by telling them not to ask, or that things were being handled. I would love to see JL’s pages of how to handle sex abuse! If it is not published, then how does anyone know what to do? Oh, wait, I bet only the pastors are permitted to know, and everyone else is supposed to follow the pastors, right? I bet Corby has read that also, and that is why they are so on top of things there, that other children are exposed to overnight camping trips with a pedophile, but the parents are not made aware of his past? Is that what JL wrote to do? Or was it written to “just say” that is what you do, because if a child does get molested, you can say it was not a “Church sponsored event”, and if you pull the “forgiveness card”, along with the “gossip/slander card” all will be forgiven and covered up, and no one need know more? To get over sexual abuse, and even spiritual abuse-especially when you are a child who trusts with all you have-It is not the same as applying a band-aid. These guys have no clue-that is definitely NOT the heart of God!”
“I actually confronted GR and JL a couple of times, trying to ‘track down” the source of such fabrications. I was really angry the first time things were said. To the best of what I can tell it was two things-#1-snooty people too high on their horses to think how overwhelming it may be just to figure out how you will feed 9 children, much less take care of all of their other needs. #2-I do believe some people (I have some ideas, but do not know for certain, so i will not name names) but from what I understand, the only sure way to get custody away form a custodial mother (in the state of Md at least) is to prove her unfit. The Social Worker even showed up at my house several times, even with he police, but could not find a reason to take my children from me. There are more details, and I am putting them all in the chronicles I am writing, but for now, i just wanted to try to answer your questions as best I could. I just think it is pretty sad that rumors spread about me like wildfire, but they are “so quick” to shield him from people speaking truths? I am seriously not surprised, though. But I am so thankful to God that He has seen me through to a new place, where I do not have to live under all of that anymore!”
“I do not even consider coercing a young girl into a meeting room with a bunch of pastors to speak the words “I’m sorry”, and have her be expected to offer complete forgiveness and restoration should be considered “reconciliation”. He knew very well going into that meeting what was going to go down-it was just a “formality” to all of them, though it made my daughter want to vomit! She was the compliant one, because I raised her that way-it breaks my heart to think how vulnerable I made her! I can tell you every other daughter after her was raised to be a free thinking fighter! I did my best to erase the kool-aid effect for my oldest-it took her moving far away to actually “get it”. Mr A may think that he can “hide his head”, and will maybe be forgotten, but I think God is bringing this, too, out in the open. They may look to “relocate”, to be in some “church plant” perhaps, but we can just not continue to allow churches to function in such an authoritarian way as to subject their children to this type of stuff! I know there are more like him hiding in the midst of those churches, not only because of others who have spoken up, but also because it is the “perfect breeding ground” for such monsters! We cannot stop all the child molesters out there, but we can certainly affect how comfortably they hide, and we can continue an open forum for victims to be able to voice themselves, and others perhaps to be warned before they become victims!”
“That reminds me, how during my marriage and years at Covenant Life Church, “the process” was always, “If someone offends you, and asks for forgiveness, you must forgive them, then it is “justified = just as if I’d never sinned”. If you bring it up, or try to discuss why it happened, or how to avoid it happening again, or even to express how it affected you, well that meant you were the one in sin and full of bitterness-the one who can’t let the past go. My ex-husband was big on that-I guess we can all understand why. Sounds like that it the same stuff they still teach.”
FRIENDLY FIRE’S STORY
I was a senior pastor in the DC area of a church that willingly submitted to PDI (now SGM) to be an “adopted” church. We got the “short straw” and Brent Detwiler became our “apostle.”
At the time I was leading the church and its building program and Brent left me alone to get our building completed (for nearly two years). Two weeks after we dedicated the building in 1989, Brent, Mickey Connolly, and two other leaders I had discipled, met with me in my office and told me I was proud, unteachable, self-centered, contentious, and unqualified to lead the church that I had founded 14 years before.
I never denied those accusations were from time to time true in my life, but that is not who I was. I had willingly submitted myself to accountability to the brothers, and like any committed Christian was working out my faith with fear and trembling.
Nevertheless, they gave me two weeks to find a job and hit the road. (That was modified later because my father died inside the two weeks, which gave them a little time to reconsider and have “pity” on me.) Their plan for “restoration” was for me to become the church janitor and handyman at a reduced salary and submit to Mickey Connolly as my pastor and continued input from Brent Detwiler.
Somehow I hung in there (in a miserable depressed, thought of suicide, state) for nearly a year. One highlight I remember, after being labeled as a “proud” man, Brent Detwiler stood before my church and told them that the sin of pride was worse than the sin of adultery (I wanted to melt into the floor). Too many other details to share of all the isolation, abuse, “curses” and guilt trips Brent and Mickey laid on me during that time. Countless nightmares of church meetings with Brent and Mickey (and other Sovereign Grace Ministries people) rejecting and ridiculing me; I lost count of the times I woke up screaming and crying for God’s mercy (lasted weekly for more than two years)!
At first I thought they really loved me and wanted to help me overcome the sins and weaknesses in my life. I willingly submitted to their role as “Holy Spirit” in my live. I made no waves in the local church. I rocked no boats. I willingly submitted to excommunication from a church full of people I had led to the Lord and fathered in the faith. I would soon found out I had been nearly mortally wounded by “friendly fire!”
Why? Because the apostle, Brent Detwiler, knew what was best for me and my church. While I was working myself to exhaustion finishing a church building and leading the church, he was slowly and skillfully winning the hearts of Mickey (my assistant pastor at the time) and my other leaders. He adeptly convinced them I was unworthy and unqualified to lead the church and must step down. He made a pronouncement over me one day that I should have NEVER been a pastor (even though I had been ordained 17 years before and had seen the success and blessings of God on my ministry). Brent Detwiler knew best though and I was thrown away.
I have too many details to bore all of you with. Suffice it to say, Brent’s exposure of abuse, legalism, and impersonating the Holy Spirit is 20 years too late in coming.
I suppose some of you think that all the other leaders in Sovereign Grace Minstries were oblivious to his ungodly behavior over all these years. I suppose Mickey never saw these ungodly traits over the last 22 years of interaction. I appealed to every leader in existence 20 years ago and they ALL (except Larry Tomczak) turned deaf ears to my plight. If it had not been for Larry and Doris, my wife and I would have surely been spiritually shipwrecked.
By the way, they used the same “playbook” to get rid of Larry Tomczak that they used on me. Tell a man of God that he is proud, unteachable, and contentious — then no matter what he does or says in regards to explanation or defense — he fulfills their diagnosis and proves their point. Once diagnosed you can NEVER be good enough again!
Yes, all the “apostles” including C.J. Mahaney, Steve, Gene, etc. have known for years who the real Brent Detwiler was and is, and they obviously covered it up and turned a deaf ear to the many complaints. How could that be? Only God knows for sure, but maybe it is because they did not find anything wrong with the way Brent conducted himself. Maybe it was the way they conducted themselves, too. Maybe it was the way they believed God would have them treat people. Maybe they were sincerely trying to love and lead the church according to their interpretation of the Word. Maybe they really believed that they are God’s gift (of the Holy Spirit) to all those under their care.
I cannot judge their hearts or their motives, but I can judge what they did to me and my family, and MANY others I have known through the years, and what I read they have continued to do to so many of you who post on the SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge forums. They have left many, many precious people dead and dying in the trenches through their misguided and misdirected “friendly fire!”
May God have mercy on them and those they have wounded! I believe the church would be better off if the whole lot would resign tomorrow and the doors of their “churches” would close for GOOD!
Yes, I still love the Lord and am walking with Him, but I do walk with a limp.
WHY did I turn everything over to PDI/SGM in 1989. (no short explanation) First, you must understand there was not 20 years of documented abuse and scandals involving the “A” Team. I had been friends with most of the leaders of TAG (“Take and Give” ministries – the forerunner of “Gathering of Believers” and “People of Destiny” (PDI) for more than 10 years.) We loved God and each other and saw a need for renewal in the church with authentic Christianity that promoted committed relationships and accountability with the Lord and one another. We had very similar visions. There was sincere mutual respect for each other and our ministries.
Within that context, Larry Tomczak and C.J. Mahaney were highly esteemed and respected in the DC area among the young, up and coming church leaders. They offered a fresh voice of what the church was all about and the need for a “community of believers” built together, not just a big pile of “stones” in the same place. I didn’t even know Brent Detwiler when I went to Larry Tomczak and C.J. Mahaney and asked them to consider allowing myself and the church I had
founded 12 years before to become a part of PDI. Brent was a relatively new face in the DC area.
I had thought (because of my lengthy relationship with Larry Tomczak) that he would be the “apostle” that would work with us. Things would no doubt have turned out very differently, but it was not to be. Brent Detwiler got the assignment in 1987 and went to work undermining the loyalties of my leaders.
I had brought Mickey Connolly into full-time ministry a few years earlier in 1984 as my assistant pastor. We shared the ministry and were like brothers – before Brent Detwiler. I was too busy in 1987 through 1989 building our new church facility to notice what was happening behind the scenes. By the time they set me down and told me I “no longer qualified to be their pastor and lead the church,” it was too late – Brent was in control. The men that were my closest friends saw in Brent the new order. I no longer had their ears or hearts. Brent had convinced them I was “unworthy” and they needed a new leader. I think they sincerely thought they were trying to help me and do what was right – thus my handle – “FriendlyFire.” Mickey was tapped and accepted the call of Brent to take over.
Could I have fought for the church I founded and had led for 14 years? Was I still the spiritual “father” of the church? Did I have a right to stay and pastor my spiritual children? YES, to all of those questions. BUT, I really felt the Lord showed me that if I made a claim to my fatherhood to this church, it would be destroyed and the sheep would be scattered. (the Solomon story about the two women who laid claim to the same baby inspired me to let the “baby” live, even if it were in the possession of an imposter)
That all probably sounds a little silly and naive now, but it helped me release the church without killing it off. The church went on to be re-indoctrinated in Brent’s brand of Calvinism/Reformedism.
After all these years and after reading all the junk that has taken place as a result of these misguided “Godplayers,” I sometimes wish I had gone ahead and blown the whole thing up – the lesser of evils.
I wasn’t “dazzled” by anyone, it was a whole different era, it was the beginning of the sorrows so many of you have shared on. There was no reason to be skeptical or to believe the worst in those days.
And, YES, – On the Healing Journey – I was the founding pastor of Solid Rock Church and had been close to Benny in Fairfax – BEFORE he got the axe!
FYI – the impact of my experience with Brent, Mickey, CJ and others, was so devastating I was never able (after 17 years of full-time ministry) to get back into full time ministry or pastoring again. Needless to say it has given me much more time to pastor my wife and family of six children, for which I am grateful.
In the last few weeks (since discovering the SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge forums), I have been thinking new thoughts. Thoughts that make me grateful I got out (even though not by choice) when I did; so my family and I did not have to grow up with the toxic influences so many have endured over the last 20 years. That is a totally different perspective for me.
To all who have expressed prayers, empathy, and hugs – THANKS – it means much, even after all these years! Who knows, maybe the limp can be healed, too! (sorry for the lack of brevity)
This is why when I appealed to the “A” team about Brent Detwiler’s abuse 20 years ago, nothing was done except to say, I had an attitude problem, a pride problem, I wasn’t thankful enough for them kicking the crap out of me, etc. etc. The ones on the “inside” are protected at any cost. But if you question too many ridiculous decisions, appear a little too negative about the party line, or don’t swallow all the new doctrines coming down the line……. suddenly you have serious issues and must be dealt with!
“Only suspicions about BB at Solid Rock. No facts. Like all of us, he had his issues, so they moved on to the next young inexperienced leader they could fully control! I remember once when after many years I got up the nerve (when BB, was pastor – he was one of my former “disciples” and elders – before Brent Detwiler) to go back and attend a service at Solid Rock. It was extremely surreal. BB recognized me in the service and made a bland statement about how I had played a “role” in getting the church started a dozen or so years before. When I stood for recognition, the congregation (still primarily made up of my spiritual children and their children) broke out into a huge standing ovation that seemed to go on for way too long.
It was a “healing” moment from all the rejection, berating, and condemnation Brent and Mickey had heaped on me a dozen years before. There I stood in the middle of the building I had built, in the middle of the congregation I had by God’s grace raised up…and they were affirming me…after all those years.
I wept and wept. After the service an elderly gentlemen who knew me well and had been a close friend in yesteryears, came to me and said in a low voice: “I know what BB said about your “role” in starting the church. We know the fact is there would not be a church here if it had not been for you.” Then he gave me a big hug. After several such “affirmings” from past congregants I left feeling better than in years about who I was and the “fruit” of my past labors.
Short lived though it was to be. Not long after returning to my home I got a letter from BB telling me how full my life was with unrepentant sin. He picked up where Brent and Mickey left off telling me how full of pride and sin my life was and how I could not come back to the church anymore to visit, unless I repented. To say the least, I was again devastated … after once again being emotionally assassinated. I guess it was too much for BB to see all that love and affirmation going out to a “marked” man who had been rejected by the apostles.
ON TRYING TO RECONCILE WITH C.J. MAHANEY – By someone who used to work for CJ back in the 1990s
“CJ said he’d heard enough about my situation already from his “men” that he’d known, I believe he said, for 17 years. (These were his brothers-in-law, Gary and Grant). He included a long list of accusations about me that stunned me, and included telling me that he didn’t want his men to waste their time on people like me. They had enough other people that really needed their care…
…When I told him that I wanted to discuss his dismissal of me from Covenant Life Church in 1994, he said very “sweetly”, “Joyce I never dismissed you. I would never do anything like that. (I do have witnesses and letters, that he did dismiss me, if anyone would like to see them, which, so far, everyone has refused.) I told him that he had dismissed me, which he kept denying, as my daughter stood there with tears rolling down her cheeks. When I asked her later why she was crying, she said, “Because I knew he was lying.” This is a child who knew very little about the situation, but, I believe, discerned in her spirit that CJ was lying…
…Almost all I was told during this time, if not all, before I was dismissed, was lies, and I was pretty convinced that those the leaders were claiming had said these things about me, would never say them in front of me as they knew they weren’t true. I have my doubts that most if any of what I was told was ever said by the ones they said were saying it. The leaders kept refusing to allow me to meet with the ones they claimed were saying these things. They wouldn’t even let me call them by phone in the leaders’ presence. They did say they’d ask so and so, or so and so, just not the one they said was saying it, and I think I know why…
…I was told by Bob Kauflin that if I brought any witnesses, they would cancel the meeting (I have that in writing also- is this another Bible/Peacemaker principle? If they’d been right in what they’d done to me, why would they have had such a fear of my bringing witnesses?)…
…I am not at all surprised that Sovereign Grace Ministries is moving far from the DC area, as the truth has started to be shared a lot at Covenant Life Church and in the DC area, and I believe CJ knows it would be quite hard to start a church here where people are starting to hear about what he’s really been doing…
…I suspect CJ feels trapped, maybe even longing for help to get out of the mess he has created. I don’t think he has any idea how to get out of the huge lying mess he’s made with the big reputation he’s built…
…I was told that, because of CJ’s position in the organization, his writing of many books, and his many speaking engagements, that he made it a practice of not meeting with people he had offended, but I could meet with other pastors…
…Why do so many of us still tremble when we hear CJ’s name, or get close to Covenant Life Church, or maybe other Sovereign Grace Ministries churches? Is that how God designed his shepherds to affect their flock?…
…I began to notice that the SGM board kept changing, as had the pastors earlier at CLC. I used to wonder if they all could really have been in such sin to need to decide to step down, as so many seemed so very Godly. Or was someone else making them stand on stage, saying that they were in sin, and felt they needed to step down?”
“I feel I have, to the very best of my ability, over the past 18 years, finally completed all I can do with C.J. Mahaney from what Matthew 18 and 5 requires of us in resolving conflict with him. I don’t know if I am Biblically accurate in this or not, but I feel I can now speak publicly about my situation with CJ, something I have not wanted to do until I completed all steps of Matthew 18 (and Matthew 5). Please bear with me, and try to believe me. This is the truth.
A question I asked the pastors who were present at my last meeting with them, was, “Have you read Ken Sande’s Peacemaker book?,” something we at Covenant Life Church were all told we had to complete and be practicing. Sadly, some admitted they’d only read parts. When I got to CJ, I was abruptly told by Bob Kauflin, I believe, not to ask him that question. CJ never did tell us whether he’d read any of the Peacemaker book. If he has read it, I strongly believe it is only since I asked him that question within the past couple of years, long after he insisted we have read it and we be practicing it, and long after he began speaking at Ken Sande’s Peacemaker seminars, and was considered an expert it Peacemaking.
I will not claim that all I have written in this is exact quotes, but it is very close to what actually took place. I have many, many, many pages of phone transcripts, written down as best I could as the conversations took place, as well as letters and e-mails, mostly from the pastors involved, to prove what I am saying below, though I am not using them to write this.
From my personal experiences with C.J. Mahaney over the past 30 + years, I believe he is an extremely intelligent, very clever man, who should have rested and prospered in who he was in Christ, (if indeed he ever made a true commitment to Christ- which I had hoped he had, but am no longer sure of), who, I believe, has been living a lifestyle of major, major lying, for at least the last 18 years I have watched and experienced him, and covers up by good sounding Christian speech and writing, and by attaching himself to top name Christian leaders who have no idea who this man really is, and other much younger leaders, who feel it an honor to be asked to serve with him, but who are all too ready to cover his tracks, though I suspect it is unknowingly for many of them.
From what I’ve seen, CJ seems to have started early on with Ken Sande, soon after (or maybe before???) CJ began leading Covenant Life Church in place of Larry Tomczak. He insisted his church all read Ken’s excellent book, The Peacemaker. Then when church members tried to put it into practice, some were falsely accused and dismissed from the church with little or no say in the matter at all, while CJ proceeded to teach at Ken’s Peacemaking seminars, all the while refusing to practice what he was teaching, and having his church listed as a Peacemaking church. We were trapped, as Covenant Life Church was the church Peacemaker’s referred us to to get help resolving conflict, but when they heard my conflict was with a leader at Covenant Life Church, they wouldn’t believe it.
I believe CJ knew who he would need on his side to do the evil he was doing, and he has gathered sooo many big name Christian leaders to his aide over the years. Sadly, unbeknownst to them, I suspect, their reputations are all being tainted badly, while those who have been in far closer connection to CJ and his churches watch in amazement at how well flattery and money can buy off even many of the top name Christian leaders we thought we could really trust. (How many of you leaders have been encouraged by CJ that you just had to write a book, or were flattered incredibly by CJ, and/or were given big donations of money because he supposedly thought so well of your ministry? If you talked with each other, you might be surprised that the tactics used on each of you were quite similar.) We stopped giving to Ken Sande’s ministry long ago, when we saw Ken’s great allegiance to CJ, and kept hearing of CJ’s involvement with Peacemakers and Ken.
We didn’t join a seemingly very good church because we found out what fans they were of CJ, and found it necessary to have members read and study his books, not realizing what deep pain the suggestion alone could bring to some of us. Psalm 37:35, sadly always reminds me of CJ these days: “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.” The enemy has successfully deceived us all, I think, greatly weakening the church as so many of us were told that we were in deception, and found ourselves backing away from God, because we were told the relationship we had with Him was not truth.
In reality, we are starting to wake up and to realize that we weren’t the ones who were deceived, and that we weren’t the only ones who had this happen to them, as I thought from 1994 until I first was directed to the SGM Survivors website and wept at so many other stories that sounded just like mine. Reading these is what motivated me to try again, and harder, to complete Matthew 18 regarding my situation with CJ. I wondered if more of us had stood up more firmly to try to complete Matthew 18 with CJ, if the harm and isolation he was causing might have stopped spreading to so many people and churches. Sadly, Brent’s story and so many others on “the websites” sound too much like what I experienced. I believe every word Brent spoke, as I’ve experienced most of it myself, from CJ himself, but I was never more than an assistant Care Group leader.
The men CJ has surrounded himself with have been great at protecting him from taking responsibility for what he’s done, and, I believe, is still doing. (I began to notice that the SGM board kept changing, as had the pastors earlier at CLC. I used to wonder if they all could really have been in such sin to need to decide to step down, as so many seemed so very Godly. Or was someone else making them stand on stage, saying that they were in sin, and felt they needed to step down? Years later I mentioned this to someone at a memorial service, and they said that was exactly what had happened to them and someone else who had worked in one of the offices there. They had been forced to go on stage and lie about their feeling they were in sin and needing to step down.
The last time I personally spoke with CJ about what he did to me, (shortly before Brent’s information came out) he straight out lied about what happened, as he had the time before that in front of Jeff Purswell and the office staff at Sovereign Grace Ministries. This time, when he kept insisting he hadn’t done what he’d done, I found myself (not at all planned) telling CJ he was lying, as he continued to state that he wasn’t, and then I read him Scripture from Revelations about where liars go in the end. (I think we ought to be taking a much deeper look at God’s perspective on lying, and maybe make this the issue to bring up in CJ’s “courtroom”.) I was told by one of the pastors that I didn’t need to read Scripture (as I had been told before, as a 14 year member at Covenant Life Church, when trying to say why I was speaking truth, even though I was being accused of not), and I continued until I had finished the passage.
CJ soon after implied that it was coming back to him, and acknowledged he actually had had a meeting with me, which he had denied repeatedly earlier in this meeting. He still denied having said any of the things he had said to me, including having “non-disciplinarily” dismissed me (is that Biblical and in keeping with Peacemakers???) from Covenant Life Church on March 6, 1994, a day I will probably never forget as I was in such shock at this CJ I had never seen before. He was not willing to hear my story, and said when I asked to talk with him after the last service I was at as a member, (after having been advised to do so by my unbelieving, but wise father), that “It will be brief” something I’d been shocked before at when I had some other seemingly Godly CLC leaders say to me earlier-had they learned this from CJ?
CJ said he’d heard enough about my situation already from his “men” that he’d known, I believe he said, for 17 years. (These were his brothers-in-law, Gary and Grant). He included a long list of accusations about me that stunned me, and included telling me that he didn’t want his men to waste their time on people like me. They had enough other people that really needed their care.
When I tried to tell him I hadn’t done what he was accusing me of, he stopped me and said something like, “You interrupted me. I don’t interrupt you and I don’t expect you to interrupt me. You interrupt all the guys. (Especially when I’m falsely accused.) Granted, interrupting is not polite, but I’m not sure God is as considered about interrupting as he is about false accusations, lying, pride, sowing discord among brethren. Proverbs 6:16-19 says the Lord hates them, that they are an abomination unto Him. I believe the Lord hates and finds abominable CJ’s repeated lies, false accusations and sowing discord among the brethren. That’s what I think needs to be tried in the Sovereign Grace Ministries court for CJ. And I am convinced he is very, very guilty of all three.
When I returned home after my non-disciplinary dismissal from Covenant Life Church (I have this in writing also), in shock, and in many, many tears, and trembling (which continued for many months and years; We’re to tremble at God’s word, not at CJ Mahaney. Why do so many of us still tremble when we hear CJ’s name, or get close to Covenant Life Church, or maybe other Sovereign Grace Ministries churches? Is that how God designed his shepherds to affect their flock?), I wrote down what CJ had said to me when he dismissed me, as I was still trying to seek God on my deception, and felt I needed to write it down to remember what I was being accused of so that I could pray through it and see if God would be gracious to show me the truth of the deception I was being accused of and apparently was blind to, as deception usually has it.
Four years after my dismissal, after having lived in incredible condemnation and loneliness, having lost many wonderful church friendships developed over my 14 years at Covenant Life Church (the single’s pastor apparently visited my care group to tell them why I was no longer a member of the church or care group), two of the pastors involved admitted that they had made a mistake, that they had been presumptuous in my situation, that things had been exactly as I’d told them it was when I was accused of being presumptuous. So I hadn’t been in deception after all? One said he didn’t see why I couldn’t return to fellowship with them.
However, CJ would never admit he’d dismissed me, so he couldn’t invite me back. All he could say, only 4 years later, was “I can’t recall,” even though I have copies of a letter he sent to a former member of Covenant Life Church, discussing my situation, only shortly before he told me he “couldn’t recall” (something another well known leader said in almost exactly the same time period.) However, 17 years later, CJ finally “recalled” a little more. I had gradually been able to follow through on each step of Matt. 18, (all of which was fought quite strongly over the years by CJ and the CLC leaders.)
Regarding trying to arrange my most recent meeting (where I was told there was no need or use for any more meetings when I was told the meeting was over and I asked if we could meet again. I had felt we were finally making progress in CJ’s eventually having admitted tiny bits of truth for the first time in 17 years, admitting he had met with me, and as I sensed he was perhaps soooo longing for someone to love him enough to help him end his lying, evil lifestyle), I was told that, because of CJ’s position in the organization, his writing of many books, and his many speaking engagements, that he made it a practice of not meeting with people he had offended, but I could meet with other pastors (Is that another Biblical/Peacemaker principle?). I was stunned initially, and then realized it fit in with my previous experiences over the years before and after my dismissal.
The person who told me this said they would see CJ the next day and double check on this. When I called back 3 weeks later, after not having heard back from this person as I thought I’d been led to believe I would, they confirmed having asked CJ if this was still true, and that he had said it was. I repeated all three of the above reasonings for his not meeting with people he had offended, and asked if that was what he had said again. This person again said it was. I had never experienced this particular person lying before, and have a strong feeling they were telling me the truth. However, when I decided I’d better hear it from CJ myself, I e-mailed him, where he denied it, and had the person e-mail me and apologize for misleading me. CJ added, “Nevertheless, the case is closed” (indicating there was no need for further discussion).
I first, early on, in 1994, tried to go in private to CJ, but I was told my sin was far too serious to even consider discussing with them, then tried to get a conciliator to help me (Ron Zabel), but Covenant Life Church refused to allow him to meet with us. I eventually went with my daughter and husband, only after, unbeknownst to me, Ken Sande had just spoken at Covenant Life Church and encouraged leaders to be willing to meet with those who had felt offended by them.
After months of being promised they’d call me back, and hearing nothing, I finally received a phone call wanting to set up an appointment. It was at this meeting when the two pastors admitted they’d made a mistake, , though CJ could only say he “couldn’t recall.” I finally went to the church, where I asked Josh Harris to be present, and when he said he couldn’t, I tried to convince him that he might want to hear what I had to say. Initially he said he wouldn’t be able to, as he was busy writing a book (sound familiar?).
My husband and I were then advised by a local pastor (a fan of CJ’s , whose church we’d been attending and had hoped to join until we started hearing more and more about CJ and having free CJ books delivered from the pulpit during the service), to just go up to the church to see if we could catch CJ, even though he’d told us he wouldn’t meet with us. We were told to go the next day, and we did. God was amazing in arranging what happened next.
I believe we asked if we could speak with CJ, and were told he wasn’t in. My daughter and I went to the restroom, and as we were returning, CJ and Jeff Purswell entered the building. My husband stood up and went up to CJ and told him that his wife would like to speak to him. CJ came over to me in very friendly fashion (he hadn’t seen me in close to 10 years, so I strongly suspect he didn’t recognize me as the one he’d been getting messages from and had been e-mailing). I introduced myself. (Keep in mind he had just been e-mailing with me about this shortly before our visit.)
When I told him that I wanted to discuss his dismissal of me from Covenant Life Church in 1994, he said very “sweetly”, “Joyce I never dismissed you. I would never do anything like that. (I do have witnesses and letters, that he did dismiss me, if anyone would like to see them, which, so far, everyone has refused.) I told him that he had dismissed me, which he kept denying, as my daughter stood there with tears rolling down her cheeks. When I asked her later why she was crying, she said, “Because I knew he was lying.” This is a child who knew very little about the situation, but, I believe, discerned in her spirit that CJ was lying.
The office staff was present. CJ left, other pastors came to talk with us. We decided to go to try to speak with Josh Harris in the Covenant Life Church office side of the building, where the Sovereign Grace Ministries office staff told us he was when we asked for him. When we asked at the Covenant Life Church desk for Josh, the office manager, ?Corey?, hemmed and hawed a bit (I think they may have been warned we were coming??) and went to the back, and returned and then said, as I believe Josh was walking out right beside us, “Josh isn’t here. He’s at the Sovereign Grace Ministries office for a finance meeting.” We were surprised and told him that we’d been told he was not in the Sovereign Grace Ministries part of the building, but was in the Covenant Life Church part of the building. I also couldn’t believe he was telling me he wasn’t there, as what I am almost positive was Josh, walked by. (We think there may be some “secret passageways” between the two sections, so that they can play the seeming “cat and mouse game” they appeared to be playing this day. ) We went back down to the Sovereign Grace Ministries office and asked for Josh, were told again he wasn’t there. We told them we’d been told at Covenant Life Church that he was there for a finance meeting. They didn’t seem to know anything about a finance meeting either. The office staff said they were going to check, and came back and said he wasn’t there, but that he was in the Covenant Life Church office. We went back to the Covenant Life Church office again and were told that Josh had had an emergency and had to go home to his wife, that he would not be back in the building for the rest of the day, that we were welcome to call him another time.
After the continual refusals to meet with me, I was eventually allowed to come for my requested meeting with CJ and Gary and Josh, though they wouldn’t let Grant, my singles’ pastor who had been directly over me, and a part of all of this, come. I was told that Bob Kauflin, who had never met me (but apparently was being told their story about me) would be there. I had to go through a preliminary long phone call with Bob where he tried to get me to speak about CJ without CJ being present. I told them I wanted no part of this, as they had done it to me repeatedly earlier on in my situation, pitting different ones of us against the other, but refusing to allow us to be together to hear what we were being told from the Covenant Life Church leaders they were saying about us. My care group leader said to me once earlier on, “Isn’t this something? They’re all talking about us, but no one will talk to us, and we’re the only ones that were involved to know what really happened.”
Almost all I was told during this time, if not all, before I was dismissed, was lies, and I was pretty convinced that those the leaders were claiming had said these things about me, would never say them in front of me as they knew they weren’t true. I have my doubts that most if any of what I was told was ever said by the ones they said were saying it. The leaders kept refusing to allow me to meet with the ones they claimed were saying these things. They wouldn’t even let me call them by phone in the leaders’ presence. They did say they’d ask so and so, or so and so, just not the one they said was saying it, and I think I know why.
Before my last allowed meeting, in a very recent year, I was told by Bob Kauflin that if I brought any witnesses, they would cancel the meeting (I have that in writing also- is this another Bible/Peacemaker principle? If they’d been right in what they’d done to me, why would they have had such a fear of my bringing witnesses?). This was told to me repeatedly. I was allowed only to bring my family. I again, was not allowed to bring Ron Zabel, conciliator. (I think he would also be willing to attest to these two times they wouldn’t allow him to meet with us, unless he feels threatened in some way???)
When I finally arrived for the meeting, and shared some of my story, Josh, (seemingly possibly well trained by CJ, as he used some of the same techniques of quick accusation, so unlike the grace CJ preached about publicly) asked my husband if he didn’t think I was quite bitter. My husband very graciously stated that he thought we might all have a bit of bitterness in us, but that he thought CJ and I really needed to work this out. When I read the Scripture passage about liars, CJ finally admitted he had met with me, but denied all else he did. Gary Ricucci shared more of what had actually happened in my situation, and I believe, spoke total truth now. Thank you, Gary.
The truth really does set men free, and lies have put very, very many of us into chaos and bondage, and I believe has very greatly weakened far too many very Godly believers in the SGM churches. I strongly suspect this may well continue if CJ doesn’t come out and start acknowledging the truth of what so many of us are claiming we have been through as a result of him.
I am not at all surprised that Sovereign Grace Ministries is moving far from the DC area, as the truth has started to be shared a lot at Covenant Life Church and in the DC area, and I believe CJ knows it would be quite hard to start a church here where people are starting to hear about what he’s really been doing. I suspect CJ feels trapped, maybe even longing for help to get out of the mess he has created. I don’t think he has any idea how to get out of the huge lying mess he’s made with the big reputation he’s built.
We were taught really well not to gossip, which I believe has greatly helped to protect the evil going on in Sovereign Grace Ministries and Covenant Life Church, etc., as many of us felt we could not tell anyone what had happened to us, so we lived with it basically in silence and alone for way too many years, while the evil proceeded to person after person, with no one else knowing what was going on.
I’d love to know how many of those affected in this way may have developed cancer, heart disease, other major diseases, even died, or committed suicide, how many families became dysfuntional as its loved ones tried to resolve conflicts that weren’t allowed to be resolved, and started believing the lies that were pronounced about them, as they were isolated from their support systems and sometimes even family systems, and were living alone with false accusations, and lies and hypocrisy, and scared to trust any other church again, let alone God, since they were often told they were in deception, so couldn’t even trust themselves to hear from God and discern His truth.
Until you leaders, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Covenant Life Church, and top name Christian leaders from Together for the Gospel, the Louisville Baptist Seminary, even Family Life. and any others CJ has tried to link himself with, Ken Sande, Jerry Bridges, etc., start believing the truth that you’ve been hearing from those who have been badly harmed by CJ, you are contributing to the continuation of all CJ has been doing, and I believe is going to continue to do (and I don’t think we’ve heard the half of it yet), and worse yet, all I believe that Satan has been trying to do for decades now to greatly weaken the church, through CJ and the Sovereign Grace Ministries movement.”
“When my husband pointed me to the SGM Survivor’s blog, I was dismayed, alarmed, and yet comforted by the many similar stories being told about the controlling spirit of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Somehow, after eleven years of being away from them, I had come to hope that things had changed for the better. It seems they have changed for the worse.”
“For a period of about two months, I began missing church meetings. My husband began to notice that I was growing in grace. When I’d go to a meeting, I would stumble into the old fears and expectations. He began to see that I did better spiritually when I was away from Sovereign Grace Ministries. That began to puzzle and intrigue him.
“Though it is hard to speak of, I want others out there under authoritarian church rule to see how different their lives can be when they recover their freedom in Christ.”
When I met my ex-pastor and his wife, I was very young, only eighteen. I was also a new believer. I came from a broken family. I was raised under a form of legalism, where outward appearance was very important. I was, unknowingly, a prime candidate for the type of practice that became prevalent in “church” – namely, a little grace mixed with alot of rules and expectations. The very night I was baptized and walking in waves of love from the Lord, a brother told me not to get use to those feelings. It was now time for the hard work to begin. I came crashing down from the great heights of communion with God. So, church wasn’t going to be any different from the way I grew up. Well, at least it was familiar. I’d fit right in.
The pastor and wife that I met began a church in someone’s basement. This was back in the late 70′s when non-denominations were a new thing. The leaders and members were young. With youth comes exuberance and pride. Somehow, the zeal for God kept our prideful moments in check. We were committed to living a New Testament life, building a community of believers who would reach out to the lost. Our focus soon drifted from Jesus to building His church. We were eventually adopted by a group known at the time as People of Destiny International (later became Sovereign Grace Ministries), led by a very enthusiastic Christian man, Larry Tomzcak. This was around 1983, I think. Everything changed after that.
An “apostle” was invited to take charge of our little church. The two elders, men we loved and trusted, were asked to step down. They soon left. Care groups were reorganized. Our pastor had to step down temporarily, to be proven by this apostle, who took over everything. A church split followed, as well as church discipline of a few people who did not submit to the new “authority”.
I was married the following year, and my husband and I began our family. A very lonely, dry time followed. It was as though I had been put off into a dessert. My prideful, youthful days were disappearing under the reality of giving myself to my family. It was good for me, yet very lonely.
Over the years, our church began to change. Our pastor was re-established. Teaching became more about doctrine than Jesus. Grace was preached for the first time, but hardly mentioned again. We were definitely under church rule. A hierarchy was established. Leaders became exclusive. My family moved into a neighborhood next to my husband’s good friend from college and his family. They were in leadership. Before our move, they told us that living near them didn’t mean we could be their best friends, as they had relationships to invest in with leadership. This wasn’t to be the last time we heard this sort of thing.
The pastor’s time was spent more and more on people being molded for entrance into leadership. Our leaders became a part of a hierarchy where, if you needed a pastor’s help, you had to go through your care group leader first. Pastors became more isolated from the little guys. They were busy investing their time in the people whom they felt were called to leadership. These people were the ones who showed the most submission, had their family life (at least on the surface) in order, and were tried and tested in loyalty to the upper leaders. Somehow, this made me believe that the only way God would truly be pleased with my husband and myself was if we became CG leaders some day. This meant man-pleasing, which I was very good at, due to my upbringing. There was also fear that we not step outside of the “umbrella of protection” established by our church. If only I had known then that this was mere superstition, as were some of the other practices in church.
Eventually, my husband was asked to lead a care group, although he was warned that a chance was being taken on him. I now realize that it wasn’t a matter of whether he was mature enough in Christ, as much as how loyal he was to leadership – this was the chance being taken. Funny, after we began leading a homegroup, it wasn’t like I imagined. There were people who needed care, but my love was just too small. I didn’t know how to support my husband.
Then, the Lord spoke to my husband about becoming part of a new church plant down south. When he mentioned it to me, I was horrified. Leave our church, our friends? I had never been anywhere else. These were our people. I hardly knew anyone going on the church plant. I had no faith for this.
We went to a conference put together for People of Destiny International churches. During worship one night, I told the Lord I’d be willing to follow my husband anywhere. The Lord suddenly filled me with faith to go on the church plant. It was complete. I never looked back. So amazing.
Well, our pastor was against us moving. He made it clear that he had plans for us. We told him that we had to obey God’s word to us. He was not supportive, but did not try to stand in our way. We left without a church goodbye. The only people who saw us off were a few friends. We had been a part of this group for over ten years, yet left quietly, as though we no longer existed to the pastor and his wife.
In our new home, we planted ourselves as quickly as possible. I was very insecure in my new environment. Pressure to perform became more overwhelming. Inside of myself, I could hear my heart crying out for something, but for what I did not know. I tried my hardest to meet the expectations placed on women in the church. With five young children under nine, I could never catch up on laundry, cleaning, or serving my husband. Then there were multiple “opportunities” to serve the church. We were actually signed up for different areas of service, such as children’s ministry, without being asked. Life was going in full motion, but I just kept getting much sadder, heavier, and more fearful than ever.
These are some things that I saw: PDI leaders moved from what seemed to be true humility in the Lord into a pride in their knowledge of doctrine. I saw them stop the Holy Spirit from moving amongst the people on several occasions. I saw more emphasis placed on obeying leaders rather than on walking in your own faith. Leaders became more distant. Women who had once been joyful began to look burdened. Their eyes began to show a sort of desperation. I felt that same thing all the time. Surely this isn’t all there was to knowing the Lord? Follow doctrine, tell your sins at care group, bake brownies for some function, be at every meeting (or you felt guilty), feeling guilty because you couldn’t keep up with everything expected of you…at one point our pastor even preached that we should have no junk drawers. Can you imagine a mother of five worrying about her junk drawers? I couldn’t even get the mountain of laundry done!
Now for confession: I do not blame all my dependency on leaders on the church. My heart was also to blame. I wanted a king to rule me, a man to walk my walk of faith. My ego was involved. I wanted to be the best of the best in my Christian walk. I wanted to be like the “holy men” who led us, because then I would be acceptable to God. This wrong thinking enabled my slavery to the rules of men. My need to please these leaders kept me in service to a false gospel. I won’t speak for my husband. This was my failing, completely and utterly mine.
I began to hunger for more of God. I wanted an authentic experience with Him. Church was not enough anymore. I had to have Jesus! My heart began moaning for Him, in the grip of fear and desperation. I could no longer keep up with the Sovereign Grace Ministries machine. I was always falling short. I wanted out.
Now I’m going to share an experience I don’t speak of often. If you are a cessationist, you probably want to skip this part. One morning, as I was on my knees in my room, praying desperately for more of Jesus, I had a deep experience. Suddenly, it felt like Jesus was in the room with me. He was sitting on His throne, looking down at me with great sympathy but a mighty sternness. If I could have fallen through the floor, I would have. I could tell that He knew what was in my heart. I was Pharisaical, a legalist, a person without the knowledge of grace. I began to cry and tremble. I don’t know how long we sat together. For days after, I walked around saying, “Who can stand before God?” I was totally undone. I was made to look into God’s cup of wrath, yet not made to drink. This was my Isaiah experience. Truly, who can stand before God?
This went on for about a week. One night, I was watching a “Matthew” video. I got to the end, where the actor playing Jesus looks straight into the camera and smiles a beautiful, complete smile of love and acceptance. Tears streamed down my face as I rewound over and over to see that smile. The Lord had looked at me sternly, shown me His cup of wrath, kept me from drinking of it, then smiled at me with total acceptance and love. My heart overflowed with joy. I was forgiven. Jesus paid the price. I would never suffer God’s wrath!
After my Isaiah-like experience, I began to hunger for the Lord. I read alot of Andrew Murray books. My bible became fresher to me. My friend, who was going through a similar experience, would call me and we’d talk for long periods of time. We were fellowshipping in a way I hadn’t really known before.
For a period of about two months, I began missing church meetings due to sick children. My husband began to notice that I was growing in grace. When I’d go to a meeting, I would stumble into the old fears and expectations. He began to see that I did better spiritually when I was away from Sovereign Grace Ministries. That began to puzzle and intrigue him.
A time of refreshing came to our church. Sundays would find men, women, and children going to the front of the theatre where we met, praying and weeping. My husband and oldest son were among those. Though they both found it difficult to speak of what was happening to them, my husband and son experienced definite heart changes because the Holy Spirit touched them. They, too, began to want more of Jesus.
All too soon, the senior pastor stopped the times of refreshing. When asked, our CG leader said the SP decided that it wasn’t the direction he wanted our church to go in. The Holy Spirit’s moving amongst us was no longer welcome. Now, understand that there were no abuses that I could see, just sincere people being touched by God. Still, it was not what the SP wanted to happen.
At the same time, women were going off to have their own CG meetings, and men to theirs. The first few times our little group of women met, we bonded through prayer, confession, and love. There was such beauty in the way the Lord was bringing us together. Suddenly, the freedom we experienced was taken away. We were given lists of sins to talk about at the meetings. No longer was the Holy Spirit free to move. We were put into a strangle hold. My friend and I labored over the care group questions, trying to answer honestly, but it felt so forced. It just wasn’t real. My husband became involved as he saw how stressed out I would become over going to a women’s meeting. He saw that the grace I was newly walking in was being squashed by the forced sin-digging. Our whole church was becoming like this. Every meeting was about our sin. The freedom, the love of God, the hope began to drain away. We heard hardly anything about Jesus. The focus was more and more on doctrine and the cross, our sin nature, etc. Our souls were so hungry for more of Jesus. It became apparent that there was a real problem.
We and two other couples met with the leadership. We truly loved and respected one of these men, whom we’d known for years. Imagine our surprise and dismay to find that he was defensive, impatient, and even angry because we had questions about why he stopped the Holy Spirit from moving in our church. I looked at these leaders and realized that they had no love for us. You could tell that they’d been through these kind of meetings before. They had an agenda. It turned out to be, follow their vision for the church, or go somewhere else. I knew suddenly that I was free of these false shepherds. They had no real interest in my soul, only my obedience to them. My husband felt the same way.
Of course, the SP would disagree with our point of view. We know what we saw and heard that night. It caused us to flee this church like the hounds of hell were on our heels. If we had remained, we would have lost our focus on Christ. We would have sold Him out for doctrine, church building, and sin-digging. I’m sorry, but that sort of focus just doesn’t satisfy the hungry soul.
During the years after we left, we became part of a small house church of other ex-sgmers. For three or four years, we helped each other heal. Two of the men were saved and baptized. So were some of our children. I did enter into a time of depression as the Lord re-educated me. There was so much about Him that I did not know, so many misperceptions. He was faithful to walk me through, partly because of the grace that my husband constantly showed me. It was as though all my plate spinning ceased to exist. The plates fell to the floor and shattered. The house was never clean, the laundry never finished, meals were sparse…I just couldn’t function. I questioned everything I’d been taught. Yet still, my husband patiently encouraged me, releasing me from all expectations. Through his actions, I learned the truth about God’s abundant grace. Eventually, I was able to serve my family again.
I also learned, during more difficult times, about God’s goodness. During one of my more fearful moments, I heard the Lord ask, “Don’t you believe in My goodness?” After 20 years of faithful attendance and involvement in a Sovereign Grace Ministries church, I looked up at the sky with a frown and answered the Lord. “I don’t know what that means, Lord. I don’t understand.”
So He proceeded to show me. I went through a serious health crisis that continued for about five months. During the hospital trips, Dr.’s visits, and testing, I saw the Lord meet my needs at every turn. When I was afraid, He got to the hospital before me. He put angels called nurses into my life at just the right moments. When I had to have an MRI, and was terrified of being enclosed in the machine, the Lord gave me courage. I laid down on the bed, and it was rolled into the MRI machine. The minute I got inside, the Lord was already there. He communed with me during the 25 minutes of my isolation. He spoke of me becoming like a butterfly leaving its cocoon. He made special promises to me that I still hold close to my heart.
After surgery and weeks of recovery, I began to see how the Lord had changed me. I could now say to Him, “Yes, Lord. I do believe in your goodness.”
In 2006, my husband and I, along with our five kids and multiple animals, relocated to the mountains of CO. We are beginning to know the body of Christ in this little community, though we have not committed to one church alone. We know that we are waiting for something that the Lord wants to give. I continue to walk in grace. I have learned how to love. When I fall short of love, I know where to go to get a re-filling. I trust in God’s goodness, now. I walk in the freedom that the Lord has given me, yet I do not desire to sin. I have found that the more love the Lord stirs in me for Him, the less I want to hurt Him by doing wrong. It is grace that keeps me, not passion for doctrine or unquestioning obedience to a group of leaders.
When my husband pointed me to the SGM Survivor’s blog, I was dismayed, alarmed, and yet comforted by the many similar stories being told about the controlling spirit of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Somehow, after eleven years of being away from them, I had come to hope that things had changed for the better. It seems they have changed for the worse. I am so sorry to hear that. If the leaders won’t listen after the mountain of times their wrong behavior has been addressed, then maybe the people will. It is foolish to blindly follow a group or a man without any faith of your own. It is a travesty to relinquish your freedom in Christ. He shed His blood to give you that! My husband has said that, one day, we will all stand alone before the Lord. We won’t have our pastor, our cg leader, or our accountability partner beside us. We will stand or fall based on our own faith. Before we can be a church, we must be our own, individual temples where Christ is revered. The bride that Jesus is returning for will not be a blind follower of men and traditions. He is looking for the bride who has filled her lamp with oil, is waiting expectantly, keeping fully awake until her Bridegroom comes. That is the sort of church I want to be a part of.
Sorry for the length of this post. I have to admit that it is nice to be finished. It’s not easy to go back and stir up old memories like these. However, if anyone receives ears to hear and eyes to see because of reading this, then it’s worth the effort. God’s favor and spiritual blessing be with you all.
Former SG Pastor’s (FSGP’S) STORY
Here’s my story from the prior post, copied and pasted as requested, with this addition. I am anonymous because I know that SG is vindictive to the core and I have family still entrapped there. Until they get out I’ll remain cloaked (along with my Klingon warship off SG’s port bow). Plus it keeps the SG TopSecret Uber Intel Gathering team in a bind. Remember, they can’t acknowledge or parley with anonymous bloggers. Their rules, not ours.
Kris asked us ” … to share a bit about their history with SGM. How long have they been (or how long were they) part of the organization? …”
I was part of a church in SGM for ~ 5 years. During that time I was a home group leader and then a pastor. I resigned from all leadership positions because of staff and leadership issues, by my own choice and without any indication from church staff or SGM that I should do such. At the time the church was engulfed in a number of interpersonal conflicts. I had great hopes that these conflicts (especially the ones that I was part of) would be resolved. To this end I remained a member and attended the church for ~ 6 months after I left leadership. I fully expected conflict resolution and reconciliation until my last day attending the church. On that day I had a most painful but most fortunate encounter with the regional apostle. During this encounter I found out (among other things) that men I had served with were accusing me of sin. This is one of the lies that the apostle accepted as fact. He had never once prior to this encounter attempted to contact me in any way. Neither had any of the leadership team.
I was ready to bag it right then but my best friend and soulmate, MsFSGP urged me to give the apostle a chance. So I did. He was supposed to get back to me but several days went by and I did not hear from him. (I guess accusations of sin are not that important at the local leadership, local sr pastor, and at the apostle level). So I contacted him and suggested that maybe Mt 18 was the way to proceed. He agreed and gave me the names of my accusers and asked me to contact them and arrange meetings. I did this – and every one of my accusers refused to meet with me one on one. One never even responded to my attempt to arrange a meeting. Are you with me so far? It gets better.
The next communication I received from the apostle said … wait for it … “they” decided that I had not sinned. So face-to-face, one-to-one meetings were not necessary. This produced a precipitous dip on the emotional rollercoaster! So I hadn’t sinned??!??? But whatever I had done was serious enough to talk about among local leadership and the regional apostle (without me). And fuel the church gossip mill???
MsFSGP and I were like the old cartoon Popeye at this point: we stands what we can and we can’t stand no more. The sweetest place on earth, modeled on Scripture, was instead the little house of horrors, modeled on Kafka. We sent an email to the local leadership team, thanking them for opportunities to worship and serve our Triune God together, blessed them … and resigned.
The response was odd. The senior pastor never directly acknowledged our resignation. There was one member of local leadership who never responded. There was another who responded with argument. The apostle was informed of our departure, and he asked if we would continue to attend the local. Two members of the leadership team asked as well. We responded with absence. Several years have gone by so that maybe they got the message by now.
But that’s not all! The locals wanted to meet with me to “share observations” and the apostle encouraged this as well (sure he did). This was so important that they wanted to set this meeting up nearly 8 months after I had quit leadership and 2 months after I had resigned from membership. And I, despite advice from 3 people very close to me, agreed. (Yeah, I’m not the sharpest tack in the happy meal). I still thought reconciliation was possible. I suggested an agenda and a time limit for the meeting. The pastor responded that the meeting would be short because they just wanted to bless me and recognize my service (yeah, right – there is not a single true “survivor” or “refuge-e” who believes that one!). Another leader was a little more transparent; he said the meeting would take hours – after all there were a lot of issues to be worked through. I’ve watched enough Westerns in my lifetime to smell an ambush. So I said “see ya”, though not exactly those 2 words.
Life post-SG has included battles with depression, anger, and resentment. Yep, ol’ FSGP is way human. That is why he has to pray so much “God, be merciful to me a sinner”. But life has emerged into a time of greater joy than I ever had in the SG system. My best days have been in the past few years, after escaping.
Get out, friends, and get on with life. There is Joy to be had!
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,
Former SG Pastor
I started attending Covenant Life Church right after college graduation in 1986–and stayed there, miserably trying to be godly enough to be accepted.
I married a former TAGer who got the “men rule” part, but not the “servant leadership” or the “support your family” parts. So I went to work, had a baby and prayed that my husband would step up so we wouldn’t starve and began church counseling. He didn’t step up, so after a year of cobbling together very part-time work with no benefits, I began teaching half-time (with full benefits–Thank you Lord for unions!)
The church went through Biblical Counseling and all that focus on my sinfulness and the three trees and replacing bad fruit with good fruit scared me. My child didn’t quite fit the mold–now I know that he has both LD and ED issues, but then I thought it was just me. I hated the Ferberizing. I hated the moralizing about how harmful watching Arthur on PBS was. I didn’t want to spank a toddler–and hated to hear about moms who had spanked their kid 10 times that morning only to discover he had an ear infection. My husband left marks on our toddler–that my mom photographed. I should have left then.
My boy started at Covenant Life School in kindergarten, but he learned differently and slowly and melted down when the principal tried to spank him. So we withdrew him and put him in public schools where his individual needs would be addressed better. Our care group was disbanded–and we drifted for a season.
We had another baby. Our new care group decorated the door and brought food. The CG leader and the pastor counseled my husband again about providing for the family. We talked about the “anger” issues at home. The answer was more prayer, more submission on my part, more church counseling. I started working fulltime, so we might find some minimal financial security (a small townhouse).
My beautiful 8 year old grew so despairing that he talked about drowning himself in the bathtub–our first trip to the ER soon followed, and meds, and a therapist. She wondered why he was so angry. His father tried to discipline him by casting out demons, by pinning him to the floor, by punching holes in the wall/door and more. He regularly told me that I should be grateful that he still wanted me, that we didn’t deserve nice things or kindness, that the LORD had told him to pursue this opportunity and someday it will all pay off, and on and on. He refused to pray with me because I didn’t have a prayer language. My despair grew–I had no girlfriends at church (in part because I was employed not home, my kid was in public school not at CLS or homeschooled, and there just isn’t enough time to seek out those who aren’t in the carpool lane with you, especially those who are bruised reeds), my home life was so NOT Covenant Life Church, and my extended family just wanted me out of there.
I did not sign the Covenant Life Church covenant (membership agreement)–it worried me, smacking of The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible. I saw such brokenness in folks I knew who had left the church, including the pastor who conducted our wedding and got caught up in the whole Larry Tomzak mess. I grew increasingly frustrated with the pastors’ attempts to address serious mental illness as sin, to see abuse as just another opportunity to practice peacemaking and to complete a three-trees model, to be handed Puritan texts (like the Doctrine of Repentance) as if they were the cure-all, and more.
However, when my son was hospitalized again in 2005 and I thought it very likely that Child Protective Services would be “visiting”, they did agree to let the Care Group help me get my husband out of the house. Periodically we would meet together with the pastors to continue counseling–and he grew increasingly hostile with them until he was dis-fellowshipped in 2007. He still attends Covenant Life Church regularly.
In October, I attended my last Sunday morning service at Covenant Life Church when the ladies on stage were singing and dancing about submission–and have not been back since. I’ve done some church shopping–and am attending lovely Episcopal church that is radically welcoming, non-hierarchical, with both male and female ministers. My son enjoys the Sunday evening service which gets it all done in 45 minutes–after years of messages alone that lasted that long (even in the youth meetings). My daughter alternates–a week with Dad and a week with Mom.
When I read about the Castillo children whose crazy father drowned them all a few months ago–and what that mom went through–and saw that she had only sought a “limited divorce” (basically a legal separation) I wondered if her pastors had told her that divorce was forbidden (except in cases of adultery)–as the Covenant Life Church pastors had told me and other wives in abusive marriages. And I wept. Why? Why? Why? Why?
“And yet, I feel confident in this, I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”
God has been so faithful to keep me close to Himself, to speak to me in the wilderness. Some friends have stuck by us–and some have not. I am so happy to be out of there–and am sickened by how long I drank the kool-aid, knowing it to be poisonous but looking at all the happy faces, hearing all the excitement, hoping that someday I too would have that life that looked so sweet.
I am telling my story to document my own experiences with People of Destiny International / Sovereign Grace Ministries and confirm to others who are currently struggling with some of the same issues, now nearly 20 years later, that they are not alone.
First let me preface it by saying, I have no lingering animosity toward the players in my little drama. It has been many, many years and I am well. If I ran into them on the street, it would not be hard to warmly greet them. This is a testimony, not to my goodness or theirs, but to the faithfulness of the Lord and the passage of time.
When my husband and I encountered PDI, we were a young couple with an infant daughter. We began attending a small, independent church in the mid 80’s that had an emphasis on family, worship and grace. It was exactly what we were looking for. My husband became part of the worship team and we threw ourselves into the church community.
Shortly afterwards, it was announced that our church would be joining the PDI family of churches. One of the apostles came for an extended period to set the church in order, teaching PDI tenets and bringing everything up to PDI standard. The tone of the church was forever changed. Home group leaders were selected and my husband was asked to be one.
As I recall, my husband was not all that enthusiastic about home group leadership. He was working, raising a family and already serving on the worship team which required set up and tear down each week, as our building was rented. Our home was too small to host a group, so we were asked to lead a group hosted by another family. It all seemed a bit overwhelming at the time, but as it turned out, he was convinced by the leadership that this was where God wanted him to serve, despite his reservations.
Our year as home group leaders was one of the worst of our lives, not because of the folks in our group or our experiences with them, but because of trials we faced. On the contrary, these dear friends helped us through a personal tragedy (a mid-term miscarriage, where I went for a routine sonogram and there was no heartbeat) and an illness (I had a horrible case of chicken pox). They blessed us in so many ways during those difficult days. Our hearts were knit to them in a way that we had never experienced before in a church setting. Then, when our second child arrived, they rejoiced and celebrated with us with great enthusiasm. We were experiencing the “shared life” (which was a title of one of the Foundation Series classes back then).
However, there were problems by this point as well. It’s fair to say my husband never really connected with the pastor he was “under.” He got in trouble for not following directions regarding the way home groups were to be conducted, which if I remember correctly meant talking about the pastor’s Sunday sermon rather than an unrelated Bible study or discussion. He got in trouble for not correcting a member of our group who had a different perspective on an issue.
The “how to give and receive correction” sheets were distributed, taught and practiced without grace in some instances (IMO). The “woman” issue started to emerge, and the parenting errors like forcing toddlers to greet began as well. The pyramid hierarchy took shape, with the pastor investing in a few men (home group leaders, mostly) and the home group leaders then investing in men “under” them.
At the end of the year commitment to home group, we resigned. One of our closest friends stepped in to take our place. My husband went back to school to finish his degree, all the while still serving on the worship team and heading the set up/tear down team. The pastor was not pleased with him for this decision, but we were trying to follow God.
After my husband finished school (he didn’t have long to go), we re-presented ourselves to the pastor to see where he wanted us to serve. By this time, we had been indoctrinated with the pastoral authority mantra – the pastor is gifted and anointed to know where and how you are to serve in the local Body. We were somewhat skeptical, but decided to give it a shot again.
I remember thinking, if this authority stuff is right, then the pastor will know God’s will for us and it will be confirmed in our hearts. Again, keep in mind, my husband was STILL serving on the worship team, leading set up/tear down and somewhere along the line, even taught one of the Foundation Series classes for new members. I would have liked nothing better than to hear the pastor say, you’ve got young children at home, you’re already serving weekly in the church, that’s enough for now.
He did not. He wanted us to start a new home group. This time it was WAY across town in another family’s home. The fact that we had small children, limited finances, work schedule conflicts, etc. did not matter. More importantly, the fact that we had NO PEACE did not matter. After prayer, my husband called the pastor and declined the “offer.”
This went very, very badly. The pastor was demanding and rude. My husband was deemed “a problem” and “independent” because he wouldn’t do what the pastor told him to do. We were shocked and confused. After a time (a couple of days, maybe?) my husband called the pastor back to confront him, like we were taught on the correction sheets. Believe me, we had been required to correct folks for sin that was not nearly as obvious as this pastor’s display.
My husband’s sincere observation was – pastor, this feels more like a dictatorship than a church – maybe there is a spirit of control operating here. He wasn’t making demands or bringing division. The communication was private and, although those are strong words, his attitude was more along the lines of – hey, maybe we should ask the Lord about this. Even so, you can imagine, it didn’t go over very well.
That was the beginning of the end for us. The pastor set up a meeting with my husband and several other men. I was not specifically invited, but went anyway. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but my presence was not appreciated. The reason for the meeting was so my husband could explain his remarks about control issues and talk about the pastor’s bad reaction.
But that turned out to be a not-so-funny joke. For several hours, my husband faced a barrage of accusations and personal attacks. The pastor sat there, like a victim, while his henchmen, one of whom was a dear friend of my husband’s, jumped on the bandwagon. After awhile, I spoke up, saying – aren’t we here to look at the pastor’s sin? Then they turned their focus on me, which my husband put an end to immediately. The meeting was over.
We did not recant. (Nor did we speak to anyone else about it.) Because we wouldn’t recant, we were “counseled” to go elsewhere to church, somewhere we could trust the pastors to lead us. When asked if we had a choice in the matter, we were told, “no.” The apostle was in agreement and there were even signs and wonders confirming we had to go. We asked what Scripture their actions were based on, but never got an answer. A person was sent to our house to remove my husband’s worship song book, like a soldier being stripped of his rank. At least some of our friends were told that we had a Jezebel spirit and we were compared somehow to Ananias and Saphira. Then the shunning began. With a few notable exceptions, our “shared life” was gone. Some people actually seemed frightened of us. We were devastated.
The YEARS that followed were lonely and dark. In fact, as I look back, it was the aloneness that hurt the worst. Like many in PDI, we had few relationships outside of the church and the overnight change from “one big family” to “nothing” was stark.
We tried to defend ourselves. That did not go well, as everyone was so afraid of being accused of gossip or slander. Daily, we faced the accusation from the enemy of our souls that these great PDI men, whom we had such respect for, were sitting on one side of the table, with God, while we were on the other side, opposing them and Him. So fierce and persistent was the enemy with these lies that our family nearly fell apart.
Awhile later (months, maybe as long as a year), we received a letter from the pastor. He apologized for the “mutual escalation” in our situation. Not too thrilled with the “mutual” part, but his letter was cordial enough. We were grateful for what we got.
And now comes my favorite part of the story. God moved in our lives! He sent His Spirit to heal and restore those locust-filled years. Along the way, He used some dear saints to speak His Truth and pray His Heart for us and in time, we were healed.
We had gained understanding of PDI’s errors, but we also needed to know our own. The Lord was faithful to reveal and convict us of the sins which had allowed us to become ensnared in the first place. How could we EVER allow any man to stand between us and the Lord, who paid so dear a price to provide a new covenant? Why did we care so much about pleasing those men and fitting into the mold? How could we have gone against God’s Word and our own consciences in some of the graceless proceedings there?
We had to come to grips with the fact that WE had wounded folks by towing the PDI line. That WE had given permission for a man to step between us and Jesus, our True Mediator. That WE had allowed pride and then fear to be our motivator instead of God’s Love. It was gut-wrenching and humbling, but so freeing!
I’m grateful to God that He walked us through. I have such joy now in knowing that NEVER again will I hitch up that yoke of slavery. It is for freedom that Christ has set me free! We are free! We are healed!
There is hope and a future for those who have been wounded and left in the wake of PDI authoritarianism. God has not given up on you, even if PDI has. You are not alone!
It is my prayer that God will redeem that which the enemy meant for evil and turn it for His Glory. If sharing my story can in any way assist in that goal, I’m thrilled.
I left Sovereign Grace Ministries 13 years ago after being involved deeply for 14 years (’81-’95). I left under good terms, but am still troubled by what I experienced. I am wondering how many people noticed or experienced the following treatment:
1. Demand for complete devotion and obedience
2. Complete conformity in everything from doctrine to dress
3. Any views contrary to those of leadership are wrong (not to mention that those views change)
4. If you disagree with correction you are prideful an unteachable
5. Summary dismissal or reassignment of leadership responsibilities for any reason with out discussion
6. Gathering information on people to build a case against them
8. Leadership reserves the right to tell someone what their “gift” is. This can be used to accomplish # 5 if no D**ning evidence is found. Note that your gift definition can be changed at any time to suit the goals of leadership.
9. “Passive excommunication” Those that do not agree with leadership or simply want to do something different (than the current ministry model) are not chosen for leadership and are encouraged to leave Sovereign Grace Ministries.
10. Be quiet. You cannot discuss any opinion, idea, project, or issue not approved by SGM leadership. Members often support the hush policy.
11. Pride. Other churches are not as good as we are. Para-church organizations are bad. Leaders are elevated to an unhealthy position.
12, Curses. You won’t do well if you leave. If you do not submit (to extra-biblical rules), you are out of God’s will and will face consequences.
Finally, can any one help me understand why after so long, the experience at SGM hurts so badly. I have continued to attend church but have never regained my confidence.
GREG’S STORY – part 2
I came to Christ and joined Gathering of Believers in College Park Maryland in 1981 at the tender age of 18. Coming out of an abusive background, I was really in need. I have to say from the first up to this day I have been well loved, cared for, and respected by my friends at what became Covenant Life Church. Overall it was a wonderful experience that grounded me in Christ.
Many may be surprised know that in the beginning, Gathering of Believers / Covenant Life Church / Sovereign Grace Ministries was doctrinally open and influenced by classic Christian writers such as C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer and other “mystics” that emphasized a strong devotional life and hearing God for yourself. There was also a strong emphasis on missions and social issues. Ironically, my embrace of these foundations would prove to be my undoing as the organization changed.
There was some evidence legalism and control early on. For example, you had to ask permission to date. Having plenty experience with controlling personalities, I attributed this to immaturity in specific people, and I generally ignored attempts to control me.
I served in a variety of lay leadership roles over the years and I personally knew most of the early leaders (Several of these men have had to leave Sovereign Grace Ministries in order to fulfill their calling.) Overall my ministry experience was well rounded and quite positive. My problems began when I entered cell group leadership and developed an interest in missions.
I led a successful group which multiplied into two groups. At that time, my pastor met with me and told me that I had not only a gift of leadership but a “rare ability to develop leadership in others.” However, I found myself constantly butting heads with leadership over how to run a cell group. I was supposed to dress preppy (I’m a musician, and I’m leading singles in their 20s). I was supposed to go through whatever book was the “next greatest thing”. However, I was more interested in developing leadership in men. I noticed since we were always reading books, none of them had ever learned how to lead a bible study. So I wanted to teach hermeneutics, bible study, and facilitation. I had to fight for permission to do that. One of the books we were all supposed to read was heretical. I got into a major fight with my pastor over it. When I escalated the matter to senior leaders, they finally read the D**n thing and agreed with me. The questionable chapters were now optional reading. However, I was rebuked for discussing the issue in a cell group meeting. About a year later, the author was exposed for immorality and the book was forever dropped from the Covenant Life Church reading list.
Things came to a head when participation in my original group declined. At one meeting, I challenged the group to decide if they really wanted to meet. If so, great, if not, then I would recommend to the pastor that we disband and find other groups to attend. Admittedly, my approach to the problem could have been more graceful. Ironically, the group responded very positively. About a week later, I was called into his office on a Saturday morning and dismissed from leadership effective immediately. There was no process, prior discussion, or anything I could do. Man was I hurt. I had poured my heart and soul into cell group ministry. His observation was that I did not have a leadership gift and was not called to leadership. Such a gift would be evidenced by success (note the circular reasoning). I had no problem with stepping down; frankly, I was burnt out. However, I challenged both the basis and the process for my dismissal. I also refused to talk with him unless his senior leader was present.
That led to a painful series of meetings over nine months with him and his pastor. To their credit, they were willing to meet with me for however long it took to resolve the matter. My pastor tricked my friends into cooperating with an investigation of my faults. My character and motives were constantly challenged. Finally, I caught my pastor in a lie in front of his pastor. The senior leader asked me to leave for a moment, and when I returned, they apologized sincerely. (This may have been a historic event). I have to admit that this process was extremely difficult. It required a lot of strength, persistence, and all the tactical skill of a trial lawyer. Understandable, most SGM members don’t make it through the process, and just leave. I would not have but for the grace of God.
I then turned to my attention to the “not a leader” claim. I told the senior leader that I did not want to be branded. I had to recount my history with Covenant Life Church, everything they had said about me in the past, and of course, the doctrinal problems with their ideas about gift identification. They finally agreed that I was eligible for future leadership positions. The whole thing boiled down to my pastor feeling that he was losing control of the group and felt he had to do something. The only remaining question was whether I would remain at Covenant Life Church due to my interest in pioneer missions.
(Note: I never took on the shift to Calvinism which was taking place that time. I had observed others charge up hamburger hill and get shot down, and I was not interested in going there.)
That leads me to the coup de grace. I had started a missions prayer meeting with other folks that lasted several years and formed the basis of the Covenant Life Church international ministry. This same pastor viewed the meeting as subversive and was always trying to find out what was going on and if he could shut it down. It was comical if not sad. Around the time that the church plant in Manila was shut down and Larry’s sister and brother in law were forced out. C.J. shut down the whole missions focus on the basis that PDI was not “called” to pioneer missions. That left those of us who were mission minded hanging with nothing to do. I love C.J., but I have to disagree with the whole series of events that led to Larry being phased out and the vision of PDI changing.
Over the next few years (early 90s), I met periodically with leaders about my interest in pioneer church planting. I did not aspire to be a pastor, but I really wanted to join a church planting team in a Muslim country. I had intentionally chosen a mission agency that was very similar to PDI in its views of apostolic ministry and church planning. This, of course, was out of the question. The reasoning was as follows:
1. All mission efforts other than church planning as practiced by PDI do not result in lasting fruit
2. Only pastors selected by the apostolic team can start new churches
3. You are not called to be a pastor
4. Therefore, you cannot plant a church
I was accused of being proud. One pastor claimed that I was only interested in missions for the “glory”. Anyone who has served in foreign missions knows how absurd that comment is. I was in a painful dilemma of having to chose between staying at my church, the only home I had ever known, and obeying God in regard to missions (Rom 15:20-21). In retrospect, I should never have been placed in that position.
Unable to leave Covenant Life Church, I tried to do both. This proved to be difficult as they refused to give me a clear recommendation, and I was placed under restrictions. The pastoral recommendation sent to my mission agency was worded something like, “we confirm that Greg feels a call to missions”. My agency had some familiarity with PDI and agreed to let me proceed under that condition that I improve the sending relationship. My situation was made more difficult due to a variety or restrictions PDI placed on me. I was not allowed to address the congregation (most of whom I knew) or any cell groups, and I was not allowed to raise funds publicly. Obviously, I objected that they did not have the authority to tell me who I could and could not talk to. Finally, they conceded to allow me to talk about my mission with my friends. Having few relationships outside of Covenant Life Church, I was forced to try to make this work.
By the grace of God, I managed to pay for all my own training over a two year period, form a support team, and raise funds for an exploratory trip. I received fantastic support from my friends in Covenant Life Church, but opposition from leadership. Quite a few people in Covenant Life Church with missions interest were watching to see what would happen with me.
I finally made it to the field. Before I left, I entrusted a description of my trip and a prayer letter with my pastor. Since I had to do everything through him, he promised to give copies to the pastoral team, all of whom I had know and worked with over the years. Some had interest in my plans. I deeply coveted their prayers and covering.
Conditions on the field were rough. All I will say is that it was a Muslim country in the middle of a civil war, and you can imagine the rest. Nevertheless, I felt that I was in the center of God’s will like never before. I returned to the U.S. three months later due to illness and the need to raise support. Despite all that happened on the field, my return home was absolutely devastating. Having adapted quickly to field conditions, reverse culture shock was unbelievable. No one understood what I was going through, though my friends helped as best as they could. I fell into a deep depression. One day, one of the pastors, a friend of mine, ran into me in church and said, “Hey Greg, I haven’t seen you for a while, where have you been?”
That was the final blow. No wonder I was struggling. My letter never made it past my pastor. I had been completely uncovered with virtually no prayer support. When I asked my pastor what happened, he said he forgot. I doubt that. I think it was intentional, the latest in a series of controlling actions. What really hurt we was that I had served these guys for 14 years, doing everything asked of me, making every effort maintain good relations, and in the end, when my life was on the line, they deserted me.
I was lost. After another year of not knowing what to do, my mission finally asked that I not return to the field until I found a suitable sending church. I asked God to end it for me. I can’t preach the gospel, I really don’t want to live.
Finally, a local pastor found out about my situation and sent me a tape to encourage me. I got up the courage to leave Covenant Life Church. Why was that so hard? Why had I not done it years earlier?
I left Covenant Life Church under good terms in ‘95. I was never shunned. Years later when a friend was planning to leave, C.J. told him, “If you want to know how to leave a church well, ask Greg; he did it right.” Unfortunately, I was not well. I went back to work and never went back to the field except for some short trips to various places. I still regret that. I’ve wandered from church to church and just gone through the motions of life. I fell into addictive sin, from which I am just recovering in the last two years. Through it all God has been kind and merciful and has carried me a blessed me with a family, for which I am very grateful. My wife probably saved my life although she is still hurt by my past behavior.
This brings me to last weekend and why I am writing. A close friend of many years asked me to join the board of directors of his mission. He is a successful African pastor and a former Covenant Life Church member who I met during my early days there. On the plane headed to the annual board meeting, I sat next to another African pastor. He told me his story, how he had been betrayed by church leaders in the states, and how that almost destroyed his vision. A knife went through my heart and I cried.
I take full responsibility for my actions in recent years and the consequences, but it is clear that his deep sense of betrayal, failure, and remorse weighs heavily on me still, and I must be healed from that before I can continue with the original plan and design God has for my life.
Thank you for listening. I don’t seek to accuse anyone. I hope sharing my story will be part of the healing process and help others. No matter what you are going through at Sovereign Grace Ministries, above all, maintain your integrity, because in the end, it may be the only thing you have left.
My wife and I (And 4-6 other families, including the former worship leader) left a Sovereign Grace Ministries church less than a year ago, after seven years. We were a part of starting the church, were in leadership as Care Group Leaders, and served in other areas of service leadership. Our experience is similar to what I have been reading in blogs.
The leadership structure was sinfully authoritarian and controlling. We first noticed this when several families (friends) abruptly left years before we did. I was at that time stunned that anyone would leave what I considered to be the perfect church, so I reached out to these families to better understand what they were going through.
The pastor was extremely irritated that I had the audacity to go and talk with these former members without notifying him. Other members asked me if I had gotten the pastor’s permission before I went and talked to them. At first I didn’t understand and just felt like, “What do you mean ‘permission’?” It turns out that the families all left in response to the control and abuse they experienced, though I didn’t understand what they were talking about at the time and I guess I blamed them.
Our story began when my wife and I initiated a friendly meeting with our pastor/friend about what seemed to us to be a subtle shift in the church away from grace and toward legalism (The sermons, Care Group themes, etc.) It seemed like we were beginning to “drop the ball,” to quote CJ, when it came to the gospel.
Well, we left the meeting 3-hours later, feeling well corrected, as the pastor and assistant pastor tag teamed us. This started a series of forced meetings with the pastors, over the course of a year or more, where our hearts were examined and we were denied attendance at the care group of our choice and warned to not talk to others about anything. Eventually, I was told that I could not count the offering anymore (I was the lead guy), then could not be on the Greeting Team, and finally, we were told we could not attend Care Group at all.
Many people were shocked, but assumed the pastors knew what they were doing so didn’t ask questions. It was at this time that sermons from the pulpit were about, “protecting your pastors,” and “submitting to their authority and making it a joy to lead you.” I was determined to stay with my church family, His Body, and not succumb to the bullying by the pastors, but after receiving an absurd e-mail with accusations from the pastor, and feeling somewhat shunned by some others, we decided to leave peacefully to avoid a fight.
I am concerned that this is not a local problem, but Sovereign Grace Ministries-wide. I am sure that our pastors’ behavior was either condoned or overlooked by the regional Sovereign Grace Ministries leadership team here. I think I will post this in other blogs as this is the first time I have summarized our experience.
My name is Ryan, I’m 22, and I was an intern at the Sovereign Grace Ministries church in St. Petersburg, Florida. When I posted at SGM Survivors about 6 months ago, I used the name “exintern” because I hoped that a little anonymity would help protect me in my efforts to salvage some of my friendships at the church.
The lies my old senior pastor spread about me have pretty much ended 95% of those friendships, so I don’t have anything to gain anymore by not disclosing my name. So, here I am, I’m not concerned with who knows I’m on here anymore, though I’ll probably keep posting under “exintern” for the sake of continuity.
I came to Sovereign Grace Ministries in 2002 as a senior in high school. I made some friends, settled in despite some misgivings about the church’s lack of missions/evangelism (I’ve wanted to be a missionary since I was about 11), and became a member.
I’m a bit of a theology/philosophy of religion nerd, so I got noticed by the leadership fairly quickly. I moved up the ranks (at an unprecedentedly young age for a non-pastor’s relative) and drank pretty deeply from the Mahaney Kool-Aid, as Jim might put it. This all culminated with me being made a pastoral intern in 2006.
I agreed to one year of part-time interning. After 6 months, though, I knew I was done. I was seeing behind closed doors now, and I saw an awful lot I didn’t like. I saw manipulation and controlling of church members. I saw a CEO-like leadership style from the senior pastor, with his supposed “plurality of elders” really nothing more than yes-men. I saw what I considered to be irresponsible uses of church finances. I saw major decisions being made with zero transparency to the church body. I wasn’t ok with any of it, so I started looking for a way out.
In January of 2007, I was engaged to my lovely wife Fallon (who had started working for a pro-life organization). I told the senior pastor that I wasn’t making enough money to support a wife (which was true, they never ended up paying me despite the pastor’s promise to “do what they could”. Thank the Lord I still had my college Starbucks job). I went out and got a job teaching math at a local public school, and quietly started looking/praying for another church.
Fallon and I were married in June. Some family issues that the pastors grossly mishandled/committed spiritual abuse in over the summer caused me to expedite the church-searching process. In October we found a wonderful church and made the switch. I wrote a very complimentary email to the pastors, both thanking them for all that they had done for me, and explaining in as un-insulting terms as I could muster what my disagreements were. The two main issues I mentioned were a lack of missions and evangelism, and my problems with the church polity structure. I thought this was the end.
Our senior pastor emailed me back and asked if Fallon and I would meet with him & his wife, to which we agreed. Big mistake. They met us in a public place, and the pastor yelled and screamed at us, and called me insulting names like “insane”. Fallon was in tears, and we were both embarrassed by the public setting. We left, again thinking this was the end.
A few weeks later, I found out that a church meeting had been called about us. During this meeting, the senior pastor had decided to spread lies about me from the pulpit. He told the congregation that my reasons for leaving were fabricated and bogus, that I had lied to Fallon about my reasons for leaving and manipulated her, that she wanted nothing to do with our leaving, and that they should pray for her. I found all of this out from old friends coming to confront me, including my own brother-in-law calling me an “emotionally-abusive husband” to my face. I quickly found that I had very few friends anymore.
Fallon called many of the ladies in the church to assure them that I had not abused her in any way, that she was very happy in our marriage, and that she had agreed with all of my reasons for leaving and that she was pleased with our new church. Rather than call me and apologize, people in the church just started shunning her too.
So here we are. We have been very blessed by our new church, where the pastor has ministered to us greatly. I haven’t forgotten my desire to be a missionary. 3 weeks from yesterday we’re moving to Boston so that I can attend law school: my goal is to be an attorney/missionary with International Justice Mission and fight against slavery and sex trafficking in Africa or Asia. My beautiful wife continues in her calling to fight in the pro-life cause, working with crisis pregnancy centers here now, and hopefully in Boston soon, and who knows where in the future.
I have grown up in a Sovereign Grace Ministries church. Now that I’m in my twenties, I think my eyes are being opened. I have always tended to be legalistic, thinking I have to follow a set of rules in order to be a real Christian. I’ve been really closed minded to other churches, thinking that my Sovereign Grace Ministries church was the best church there was out there. When I encountered other Christians, I thought that I was somehow better than they were. Wow.. how ridiculous this sounds to me now! How arrogant. I cannot believe how my heart can deceive me.
Anyway, my eyes are slowly being opened. I still can fall into my old tendencies and I am regularly reminding myself of God’s grace upon myself and others. My church is not the best church ever. In fact, another church may be better for me (shock!!).
One thing in particular I’ve become aware of lately is the control over people. Some of my friends are very controlling and for awhile I thought they were right in whatever they said because I thought “they are godlier than I am”. And when I confront them on things they get really particular about specifics and claim they don’t know what I’m talking about and they’ve never done such a thing (when in fact I can remember specific circumstances when they have). Somehow they manage to turn the conversation around to make me think that I am totally wrong, or to something I have done wrong, or to make me feel stupid for not being able to remember specifics (because I get so scatterbrained while talking to them that I get all turned around and forget everything I’ve thought of telling them).
Then I looked at the families and parents of my friends — and they are really controlling too! Some parents don’t let their grown adult daughters leave the house without permission. Or do anything without their permission for that matter. If we do go out and do something, there has to be a guy present to protect us. So what about girl time outside of the house?! I’m a free spirit and sitting at the house just leaves me bored. How are the girls under these parents supposed to learn how to live life if they aren’t allowed? How will they act when they get out in the world? How will they know how to do anything? For awhile I wondered why I liked hanging out with a few different friends (who are also free spirits and whose parents are definitely not controlling) more than some of my closer friends and I realized it was because of what they were “allowed” to do… Life was much more fun with them!
So here I am now, continuing to realize more everyday, some things making more sense as I read the SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge blogs. I continue to attend my Sovereign Grace Ministries church, but have begun to wonder and pray if I am supposed to stay there. I really have no idea where to go from there. I don’t know what other churches are in my area, or if they are any good. The thing is, I really do love my friends (please don’t get me wrong from what I said earlier, I’m really just concerned for them, and don’t like how their parents treat them and how it has rubbed off on them, therefore making it how they treat me and others). So, I’m not totally ready to leave my friends that I’ve had for so many years, and I’m not totally sure I’m strong enough to as I’m trying to figure myself out.
I’m feeling very lost and confused.
I’m shaking as I write. I am afraid I will be known by my church and I also feel like I am a spy. I guess I’ll just start to tell you what is going on in my family. For the past 4-5 years, I’ve become increasingly depressed at church and could not put my finger on it. So I kept quiet and continued to be a sgmer. I bought into all the sgmese on courting, homeschooling, etc. What woke me up was my daughter. She became the barometer of what was going on. It was a wake up call. Let me clarify that she was a SGMer all the way. Her best friend also a lifer in Sovereign Grace Ministries began to think for herself some time in highschool and was IMMEDIATELY shunned by all but my daughter. As my daughter entered the college age group she became aware of how “different” she was. She does not feel called to be married at this point and would like to have a career that isn’t an Sovereign Grace Ministries approved one. She gets the eye roll when she tells them she can’t make it to caregroup because of an exam. She can’t look at any more books on the “approved” list. As time has gone on I began to see a child that was on fire for the Lord become increasingly depressed and began forcing herself to go to caregroup and other activities to make her friends still believe she was “spiritually” ok. Finally, after coming out of hiding, she shared her concerns about the legalism and immediately was dropped as a friend by someone she held dear. i could go on and on but I want to tell you about our dilemma. We also have a son who is a great kid who seems to be able to drown out the legalism and sin seeking. He’s liked by all and is neutral right now. My husband is ready to leave and I don’t know what I want. I don’t have any close friends after 21 years in Sovereign Grace Ministries. But I am afraid of what it would do to us as a family to start over. These 2 children are not little and leaving would mean disrupting their lives. Yes, I know the teachings are making me feel I’m a wretched sinner with grace sprinkled in there somewhere. I haven’t seen anything out there that doesn’t have problems. When I ask about the highschoolers in other congregations, the answer is usually “We’ve got our problems. We don’t seem to be reaching them.” That scares me. I have to say we’re not actually meeting the kids in our highschool group either. I know I’m rambling on and on. Sorry, I just don’t know anymore.
WHERE IS THE LOVE’S STORY
I almost could have written Anxious’ story, as we are in a very similar situation. My college age daughter is also pursuing a non-sgm-approved-for-females career. She has experienced many of the same things; no one understanding that she has an exam and can’t go out with the gang, she doesn’t have that *sit around and wait for a man* mentality, etc. Basically she has very little in common with the other girls her age. Just last Sunday she said it would be her last at the Sovereign Grace Ministries church (local church, that is, 20 miles away!). She has found a home group of mostly college kids that she loves. she will likely be moving to the University campus in Jan. That would go over big, I’ll bet – it’s a large public university!!
My husband and I have been gone (for the most part) for a little over a year when we hit a rough patch and got little help. Fortunately we had the presence of mind to get counseling. One of our sons, however is still in big time, playing in the worship band, leading worship at cg, and, like you, we don’t want to make him hate us for taking away most of his friends! 16 is a hard age for a big upheaval like that. We are seeking wisdom also! I think he is game to visit a nearby church dh and I have visited, but the worship leader won’t give him a week off to do so. Dh just wrote him another email, asking him to give ds days off so we can attend church as a family. We’ll see.
All that to say that we are in a similar spot, and I totally understand. I actually have taken a lot of time to re-examine my faith and to heal from all the garbage that’s been going on around us.
My story is dated now and my wife and I have long since moved on from People of Destiny International / Sovereign Grace Ministry. But we still sometimes talk about the great work the Lord started in Cleveland, Ohio through PDI, and how disappointing that we all weren’t able to sustain it.
North Coast Church was one of PDI’s first church plants in Cleveland, Ohio . Larry and Doris Tomczak and a small team came to Larry’s hometown to start a church in the southwest suburbs. My wife was one of the first locals to join up, and she and some of the other single women were discipled by Doris Tomczak while Larry worked with the men. Within a few years, the church had almost 1000 members and was one of the most influential churches in NE Ohio.
When I joined in 1984, Steve Shank was the senior pastor and the church was clearly thriving. Larry T. still visited often and his sister and her husband were influential members. The church was made up of mostly young marrieds and hundreds of committed singles. Many singles such as my wife and I lived in singles households. I grew up in a large unchurched family, and my brothers and sisters were amazed at the number of friends we all had. We were convinced we were at the center of what the Lord was doing in Cleveland.
But there were problems behind the scenes. The first Sunday I attended, one of the four pastors announced that he was stepping down from leadership. Steve Shank said that this pastor needed more time to work on his marriage and his calling. The pastor did not seem to agree, as he said the Lord was calling him to Canada. Steve Shank said the other pastors could not lay hands on him and bless his decision.
Soon after, the church announced a new plant in Akron (about an hour south of Cleveland) . Another of the four pastors was sent out to lead that church. But in less than a year the pastor was gone and disillusioned. There is still a Sovereign Grace Ministries church in Akron today, but it has never really grown much after 20 years.
Steve Shank handed off the church to the third pastor, Ken Roberts, in 1985 , and headed off to Virginia Beach to start another PDI work. But Steve and Ken did not see eye-to-eye, and eventually Steve and Dave Harvey asked Ken to step down as senior pastor. Ken Roberts did not agree, and the majority of the pastoral team backed Ken. So in 1994 , the members of NCC received a letter from Ken and the pastors stating that our church was ending its relationship with PDI because of doctrinal and leadership differences. Many people such as my wife and I were hurt and confused, and there was no real explanation from either our church or from PDI.
After much prayer, my wife and I decided to leave North Coast Church and started attending the closest PDI church in Akron. Many others left, many stayed at NCC, but long-time friendships were severed. If any of you have experienced a church split, you know how wrenching that can be.
We and many others appealed to Dave Harvey to please not abandon a PDI vision for Cleveland. Enough of us called that Dave agreed to come and meet with us. Several hundred people came to the meeting at a hotel with Dave Harvey and Steve Shank. People hugged and cried and believed God would raise up another great church in Cleveland. But Dave and Steve had a list of criteria before a church could be planted. There would need to be a commitment of support, and the PDI leadership would need to pray about whether they could support a new plant. We were told to wait and pray. Many of us did both, but it was almost 2 years before a decision to plant a Cleveland church was made.
Most of the several hundred people at the original meeting, including my wife and I, had moved on to other churches by that time. We eventually left the Akron church because it was too far, and floundered for a few years, but today we are happily plugged in to a CMA church.
I wish the story had a better ending. North Coast Church also suffered after leaving PDI. The name changed, Ken Roberts eventually left, and today it has only a few hundred attenders. The Cleveland SGM church today, like the one in Akron, has remained small without a permanent church building.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the failures here in Cleveland. Leadership could not stay united, and most of us saints did not have the faith to persevere when our world was shaken. But I cant help wonder why the PDI team didn’t see hundreds of people showing up on a winter night from just word of mouth as a clear sign that the Lord still had work for them in Cleveland. And I also wonder why the PDI/SGM and NCC leadership couldn’t work together to save a great church.
But praise the Lord that He is faithful , even when we are weak! Today there are many strong and growing churches in Cleveland. And almost everyone one of them has a few ex NCC members on the road to full healing.
I have finally made the decision to leave the mad house that I called my church. I honestly believed that I was going crazy until I found SGM Refuge and other sites where others have experienced exactly what I have experienced.
I have learned that ALL of the pastors at Sovereign Grace Ministries are alike. They are all taught the Sovereign Grace Ministries doctrine not the doctrine of love and mercy that Jesus commanded us to show for one another. They believe that our indwelt sin is the be all and end all. They truly believe themselves to be “ordained” directly by God and would have you believe that their “wisdom” and “counsel” is God speaking directly through them. Let no one dare question their counsel….
I believe that this “doctrine of sin” they so strongly emphasize and the emphasis that is put on humility and submission to pastoral leadership are subtle forms of brain washing. Over time and as one gets immersed in the Sovereign Grace Ministries culture, the subtleties start going away and the blatancies start emerging. The scary thing is that the irrational things one sees and the blatancies start becoming “normal.” You have sold out to your own logical thinking and the wisdom God has given you illogical Sovereign Grace Ministries ideology.
My issue lies with the fact the anything and everything that happens to you is a reflection on your own indwelt sin.
My story (in a nut shell) is that while going through Alpha and Beta with my unbelieving wife, she left me for a known felon and 13 year addicted drug user that was a member of our group. This man was from a local ministry that ministered to drug addicts. The small group leader for our Alpha and Beta groups was the actual pastor who ran the Alpha program.
As a member of the church (my wife wasn’t), I sought counsel form the pastor who was my small group leader. I believed at the time that he and I had become very close. He knew all of the players and the situation. He refused to counsel with me stating that “he was too close to the situation” (is he supposed to be “far” from the situation to better counsel or serve me?)
In my grief and state of confusion at how my whole life had just been turned up side down, I sought counsel from a family life pastor that my wife and I had been seeing. Too my horror, the counsel I got from him and subsequently every other pastor in the church was that I was seeing her sin more clearly than my own. I was told to focus on my own sin and nothing but my own sin! Not once did I ever get a word of encouragement, an email, or anything that even remotely resembled love from these men. For three years during the worst trials I had ever gone through in my life, I sought those that were supposedly my ”leaders” for answers, biblical guidance, and yes, a kind word. All I got was my own indwelt sin thrown back in my face!
For three years, I could not even be afforded a kind word from those men that I believed would love me like Jesus commanded. In three years of humbling myself and going back to them for guidance to get me through my darkest times, the only counsel they gave me was to seek out my own sin…. to stop looking at other’s sins more clearly than my own, and to not judge others….
For three years, those that I thought were my brothers in Christ, who would be loyal to a fellow believer turned their backs on me in my darkest times.
Shame on you Sovereign Grace Ministries for raising such men that will lay such heavy burdens on us with the emphasis on “our own sin” yet not lift a finger or even say a kind word to those going through the worst of trials. What hypocrisy, what hypocrisy….
May God forgive you “shepherds” of CFC…….
My little sister has disappeared in this Sovereign Grace Ministries mess, and I feel so helpless! She’s been in a Sovereign Grace Ministries church for the past 3-4 years, and the change is evident to all those who knew her. But she’s cut off contact with most of those who care about her, in favor of her new family, and we’re all grieving. I ache because I can’t connect with her- it’s like the person inside has died. She has no reaction to things that provoke normal anger, surprise, shock, joy in others. She can’t be in the presence of the rest of our family without her husband present (no alone time with us)- she’s literally become a Stepford wife, and I am interacting with a brick wall. Her husband is on the fast track to becoming a pastor at SG (without formal training?!), and they have been touted as the “poster couple” for courting. But she’s not her- she’s barely anyone. And now she’s had their first child, and I fear she’s locked in this culture (or cult?) for quite a while, because now there’s much to lose. Much to be ashamed of if it doesn’t work out perfectly, since they’ve invested so much faith and identity in this “perfect” way. Seems like a different form of the American-prosperity gospel, where if you get the doctrine right, it all works out well for you. And if it doesn’t work out well…that’s a lot of pressure to live under. She is NOT free, and that is not Jesus. I just want her to be free!
So, I struggle deeply because there’s that the part of me which has fear and compassion for her. And yet, when she does talk (usually after she’s run the conversation back by her husband or someone else on “leadership” in the church), she is both cliche and arrogant. It makes me so angry that her answers are someone else’s- not critically digested or thought through. I also am really hurt that her responses are so condemning of me and others for “not getting it right.” (She quit college, and I’m an MD in residency). But what is so maddening, is that it’s a passive-aggressive and very manipulative condemnation. Her disdain is shrouded by some weird Christian-ese, and I haven’t been able to pinpoint what’s wrong in her statements. It’s her distance from me, and what feels like a distance from Christ, that feels wrong. But how do you quantify that? She wouldn’t know what I was saying. Has anyone else felt this trapped? I don’t know how to keep my relationship with her- I don’t know how to be me around her. And yet, I want her to see freedom in Christ in hopes that she may be free to love Him with anger, joy, sadness, mistakes, successes. So I feel stuck- I wonder if I’m feeling what she’s not allowed to feel herself??
Erin, I’m not sure if you realize this, but Sovereign Grace Ministries does read ex member forums and will be trying to figure out who you are, especially given the fact that you mentioned your sister’s husband is on the fast track to becoming a pastor.
Just giving you a heads up. Sovereign Grace Ministries doesn’t play according to anyone’s rules but their own, and they are extremely into damage control and very protective over their own (i.e. pastors or potential leadership esp.)… my mentioning a friend of mine whose husband was just considering going to the PC was what “gave me away” last year.
I was a nobody in Sovereign Grace Ministries, in an obscure and recently adopted Sovereign Grace Ministries church, in a small town in Texas…if they can figure out who and where I was, they can with others. The fact that they even took the time to in my case was so ridiculous…as I said, I was a nobody in the world of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Pray up…and don’t be surprised if your sister comes to you very angry because her pastor told her that you (her sister) were posting about her on an ex member forum. That is a a HUGE no-no in their mind. Don’t think for a second that they won’t try to turn family against family to remain in control, or divide husbands and wives, turn children against their parents….they do it ALL the time. That’s how sick it really is.
I will be praying for you as well as your sister and her husband….truth bears out. Pray and love your sister. Point her to the SGM Refuge forum and others if she does not know about them already. And now she has hundreds of others praying for her as well…. Juli
Erin, I have never shared this part of my story in any detail. I do so now because I want you to know that I can relate and understand your frustration and concern.
When we were dismembered from our (then) People of Destiny International church, my sister and her family were also attending there. She and I are very close in age and had always had a close relationship. At the time of our turmoil, naturally we shared “our side” of the story with her. Then she went to see the pastor. Afterwards, everything was different. There was a wall between us. I was wounded. I felt she of all people should have come to our defense. As the years went by and she became more entrenched in all things Sovereign Grace Ministries, our relationship was non-existent. She did not call me when her youngest two children were born. I did not share any of the details of my life with her. More years went by. She moved away to be part of a Sovereign Grace Ministries church plant in a different state. Still, no relationship.
Then, one day, the Lord spoke to me. Go see your sister. I obeyed. It was a joyous time. Even though she was still convinced of Sovereign Grace Ministries’ wonderfulness, the foundation of our lifelong relationship was in tact and we were able to be reconciled. She had missed me and I had missed her! (As a side note, we attended her Sovereign Grace Ministries church during that visit. It was the first time in many years we had been in that environment. The man who preached was instrumental in our demise. The spiritual atmosphere was oppressive. When you have been removed from it for a season, then revisit, the error is glaringly obvious. Oh, how the Lord met me! I was able to shut out all the oppression, open my heart to Him and WORSHIP with great thanksgiving! There was absolutely no fear. That’s when I knew for sure, I was healed.)
Not too many years later, things began to unravel for my sister in her Sovereign Grace Ministries church. She has her own story to tell and I will leave that to her, but suffice it to say, she was severely disillusioned and wounded. How grateful I was that God had helped me work through my offense, allowing our relationship to be restored prior to this difficult time, so I could love and support her and her children in any small way.
As I think back on it, my sister was in a precarious position when we were dismembered from the church. She loved me, but was married into a prominent family. Imagine the tug of war that she went through initially before she disappeared entirely into the culture. I have much more compassion for the position she was put in now than I did then.
Anyway, I say all that to say, everyone’s advice to you to keep loving her and communicating the best you can is sound in my opinion. Gracie
BETRAYED’S STORY – part 2
One thing I did fail to mention in my original post was that not only did the pastors constantly tell me to “seek out my own sin,” and did absolutely nothing to love me or encourage me.. they actually sided with my X-wife who is not a member, nor is she a Christian, left me for a drug addict/felon, and filed for divorce and 8 court actions against me (I filed not one thing against her),
Yes, they supported her and turned the tables on me… The one pastor was meeting with my X during this whole mess without my knowledge. She was slandering me and he believed every word she said. I would show him court documents and other evidence to prove that she was lying, he still sided with her. He would write me NASTY emails and copy her. She was using the emails against me in court. Even though I told him she was doing so, he continued to send the emails. (Just an FYI…not once did he bring up her sin, not once!!)
This same pastor also decided that he wanted to share what happened behind closed doors in counseling with third party members of the church. Specifically, a 25 year old young man that I had become friends with. Out of concern for me (bitterness towards the pastor/s), the young man set up an appointment with the pastor to speak about me. I had no knowledge of this at the time. This young man is NOT in any leadership/pastoral role in the church by the way.
I have no clue why any pastor would have agreed to set up an appointment with any third party to discuss my divorce or marital counseling. This individual was told intimate details about closed door counseling between my wife and me. He was told the lies my wife had said about me. The ones that the pastor believed. I was beside myself when I heard words spoken behind closed doors come out of this young man’s mouth. Again, it was weeks later that I found out that this meeting had occurred.
This pastor had broken the golden rule of counseling..both secular and Christian!!!
There is so much more..it would make your head spin. I couldn’t make this stuff up…even if I wanted too!
Funny, I was re-reading my original post below and sensed such anger in my tone. God has soothed my soul in these past few months. My bitterness is residing and my heart is reveling in the joy of Christ again.
One last thing: Only by Gods mercy and Grace… nothing in any court action presented against me was upheld. As a matter of fact, even though I filed nothing against her (all I did was defend myself) I got almost everything I had asked for from the courts. Especially, my two beautiful kids :) After the divorce, my X and I had not spoken a word for almost five months. I finally asked the judge to order co-parenting counseling and he did.
Amazingly, it took a secular counselor one meeting with us to get us back on talking terms. In three meetings with her, you would have never known we were ever at odds with each other. We now get along better than ever. I wonder sometimes if we had gone to this secular counselor before the divorce if we’d still be married. All I got with the pastor/s was “You’re a sinner,” and “you’re seeing her sin more clearly than your own,” and “seek out your own sin first!” etc… hummmm?
I’ve been at CFC for two years, and its been two years too long. Their culture of defeatism and constantly beating us over the head with our own sin has taken its toll on my spiritual life and personal life. For the longest time, I was convinced that it was just me. Maybe I wasn’t praying right or I was doing something wrong. But I’ve recently come to the realization that its not me…its Sovereign Grace Ministries. CFC’s worship is downright depressing. I want to go to church to celebrate what God has done for us! I love music from Matt Redman for instance. Its just constant praises to God in his music, whereas just about all of the Sovereign Grace Ministries songs focus around how bad of a sinner we all are.
Upon my confrontation with some of the leaders of the church regarding my contention with the general demeanor of the church as well as large portions of their “scriptural doctrine”, I was reminded of my own sinful nature several times by them. I’m tired of it, and I’m ready to move on. My fiance is seeing this firsthand for herself too. Members at CFC and Sovereign Grace Ministries as a whole are more concerned with their church’s survival and appearance of integrity, that its handling of severe issues are unacceptable and swept under the table so as to not be brought to the attention of everyone else.
Voicing my contentions with the church has resulted in a ton of lost friendships, spiritual depression, issues brushed under the table, and now my fiance and I are in the horrible position of preparing for a wedding when we no longer have a church to have it in, and a majority of people that were going to be in our wedding will now have nothing to do with it.
I attended a PDI church many years ago (’84 to ’89) in California and started attending from the ground up. I was one of the first to join the 6-7 families or so who relocated from Covenant Life. I’m amazed how all the stories I read on the ex member forums resonate with what I experienced years ago.
The apostolic-to-pastoral-to-member authority, the doctrinal purity, the discipline of children (families were expected to be super well-behaved), sin seeking, the home group discipleship, and more. Perhaps the sheparding-type stuff wasn’t there, but the seeds for it certainly were. It was very subtle spiritual abuse going on with the constant calls for getting certain teachings (especially when CJ Mahaney and Larry Tomczak showed up), and submit to the church program/teaching, which was being billed as the authentic NT church model. It took me several years to realize we were all becoming clones, and elitist ones at that.
Our church was probably the black-sheep of the PDI church family in those days, I’m sure, because it attracted so many mission-minded folks from Fuller Seminary and another mission school. Us mission folks knew from experience or mission training that healthy church planting only happens when local leaders and members are free to express the gospel message with a local/cultural expression and have a high degree of local autonomy. Of course, this clashed with the doctrine of apostolic authority big time.
To make a long story short, things came to a head after we sent a team to the Philippines and the team and the mission-minded Mission Director realized after only about 6 months on the mission field that PDI had every intention of forcing a top-down authority structure, not only on the California church, but the newly planted Filipino church, even though the “apostles” from DC were absolutely clueless about Filipino culture or cross-cultural ministry.
There was a huge misunderstanding–but I really want to say a conscious choice on the DC leadership’s part not to try to understand–and people were grossly misled. At least 4 families had invested 2 years into this program and were under certain impressions and when they realized how authoritative things were, they crashed, burned, quit, and some, sadly, couldn’t return to any church at all. Eventually there was a huge church split (after my wife and I had left) and half the church left (including most of the founding families) and half remained within PDI.
From my perspective, the root of most of this is what I call Bible abuse–when usually well-meaning people misuse scripture for a purpose that it wasn’t originally intended. The literalist approach to the Bible reinforces this, so if Hebrews says “obey your leaders,” well one better apply that strictly because it is God’s word for the church today and every practice and belief of the church better line up with what the scriptures teach. Trouble is, the Bible never claims to be a strict set of timeless maxims but a story of God’s love for humankind and how Christ brings good news of this to all.
FREE OF SGM’S STORY
It’s great to learn that my experience and a couple of my friends are not the only ones. I am surprised to see how many others have been hurt by their time with Sovereign Grace Ministries / People of Destiny International.
I started attending prior to our church joining Sovereign Grace Ministries. At first all seemed fine. The pastors were very open and available. Our church joined PDI a couple of months later and we soon started to notice a change. For some reason our pastors were not available anymore. We are all strongly encouraged to join a care group. More to the point, we were assigned to a care group.
Working full time and taking college classes at night presented a schedule conflict for me. Since I was already taking class, I did not think missing cg would be an issue. After missing the first cg, the leader asked me what was going on. I explained the situation and he seemed to fully understand. Well during the week of final exams we only had one class scheduled which naturally was for the final exam not on a cg night. Since I am not a “A” student I needed all the time to study, so I again missed cg as I had done since class started. This time I was confronted by one of the pastors. I explained the situation only to hear, “If you believe study is more important than God, that’s your priority” Thinking he was making a bad joke, I suddenly realized he was serious.
I started to attend cg after class had finished for the spring. All seemed well, we were encouraged to “open up” and not create “walls” in our lives. Naturally I wanted to be a good Christians and grow, so I opened up about things. This would prove to be a BIG BIG MISTAKE. I did not realize that the church I loved was practicing shepherding. I did see many in care group seek advice of the cg leader for all kinds of things. Well in time I signed up for classes and purchased a used car – the car I had stopped working and needed too much $$ to repair (engine and trans). For some reason this cg leader confronted me because I did not see his advice. He explained to me that he is my “spiritual covering”. I did not see this in the Bible, but then I was a Bible expert. At the next cg shuffle I was rewarded by being placed in the farthest cg from my house. It turned out that the cg leader was upset I did not consult him on matters he had no education/knowledge or experience with – basically my classes for my degree.
The next cg leader explained he knew of my situation and was there for me. I thought he was talking about my class/work schedule not what I had “opened up” about – struggles with family members. I soon learned that this cg leader was fully aware of the personal problem in my family – I am referring to abusive family members. I was not married at this time. Even though I had reconciled with one family member, it seemed this cg “give it a rest”.
After another year or so, I asked a couple of leaders why people seemed to have to go to leadership with virtually every decision. It was just an honest question, no judgment, just looking for information. I was promptly told that these leaders are setup by God, similar to the way Moses was set to lead the people. Also I was fully informed that my questions were an attack on God’s anointed and thus an attack on Him.
It has been many years, I will write more later – but I am surprised to meet people who have left the movement some as much as 5-10 years ago and have problems with being codependent to this day. I suggest they read the Bible and seek God not some covering for every decision.
And I really am talking about virtually every decision – even the ones that are clearly answered in Scripture
STORM TOSSED’S STORY
I wanted to share my story because I think the structure of Sovereign Grace Ministry and the abuse our family experienced led to where we are now. And, let me tell you, we are a mess. It is only 36 hours since I recommitted my life to Jesus. While I know I made the choice to renounce Jesus, I believe I never would have been in that position if it weren’t for Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Quick necessary background: I was born Jewish, and grew up in and out of foster care due to abuse. I was literally collecting the items necessary to kill myself when a staff worker at my group home told me his story and offered to take me to a local youth group meeting. I got saved at that meeting 26 years ago.
Within two years I was out on my own, at college and invited to a Sovereign Grace Ministries church. I was only there a few months before transferring to another college, but it was right near another Sovereign Grace Ministries church, so that is where I attended. It was Robin Boisvert’s church, LCC. I was the ultimate people pleaser, involved in cg and any ministry I could find time for. Three years later when my non-SGM boyfriend proposed to me (and I said yes), my cg leader told me I should have spoken to Robin first, because as an “unparented” woman, he was my authority.
When I met with Robin he told me I shouldn’t marry my boyfriend unless he was planning to come to LCC. He wasn’t. We were planning to go to his church, and then to seminary for him to study to be a pastor. Robin could not point out any reason (sins, etc) to justify his position and we told him we would continue with our plans. Within a few weeks I was totally “excommunicated” from the church, and no one from LCC came to our wedding. We were stunned that any pastor or church could be so controlling, but we chalked it up to one bad experience.
Multiple times we have moved, etc. and ended up returning to a Sovereign Grace Ministries church. Why???? Because, 1- we didn’t experience the control in all the churches (either because we weren’t there long enough or didn’t “cross any lines” while there), and 2-we longed for close, caring relationships that caregroups seemed to foster.
Our final Sovereign Grace Ministries church was in Cary, NC and run by Phil Sasser. We were there for seven years. At the end we were co-leaders of our caregroup, ran the bookstore, we oversaw the Children’s Ministry program, et., etc., etc. We were the definition of involved. My biggest problem was that I had been regularly corrected for not submitting to my husband’s leadership.
A new family came and when they found out I had a Jewish background, invited us to visit a Messianic congregation they attended. (Please do not flame me.) We went to one service, with the agreement (my husband and I) that it would be the only one. Fine. It was nice, but on the way home my husband told me he wanted to return the following week for a holiday event. Before I knew it we were going to both the Messianic cong. and Sovereign Grace Ministries. We knew this could not last and my husband wanted us to attend the messianic cong. not Sovereign Grace Ministries. We fought about it and finally I thought that this was another situation where I had to submit, so I agreed.
My husband set up a meeting with Phil to discuss our plans. He was very concerned and wanted to meet a few times with my husband to discuss it. Fine. In the meantime my father died. We informed Phil and our caregroup leaders, asking them to pray for us. We returned late Saturday night and came to church on Sunday. Neither Phil nor our cg leaders said anything to me about my father. I wrote an email to Phil telling that I felt hurt that he had not remembered my father had died, and asking to meet with him for some help dealing with some issues that came up at the funeral, which I specified.
Instead of emailing me back, Phil forwarded my email to one of the other pastor, Daniel Baker, without even asking permission. When Daniel contacted me I told him that my email was private, and I did not wish to discuss it with him. I re-emailed Phil to set up an appointment for both my husband and I to meet with him. Although Phil emailed me that I had no right to expect him to ask about me or show “my version” of pastoral care, we still had no idea what was waiting for us.
When we arrived both Phil and Daniel were there waiting for us. I had come prepared to discuss the issues about pastoral care. I presented many verses about pastor’s responsibilities to be a caring shepherd, Christian responsibilities to show love and mercy, etc.- all to be told that I was twisting the Scriptures, that those verses only tell me what I as a Christian should do, not what I should expect of others, etc. As for my email, he said that by becoming a member of the (Sovereign Grace Ministries) church I had agreed that he could share any email with any pastor, and had no right to privacy.
He then went on to “discuss” the topic of our choice to leave. He blamed me for judaizing my husband. Even when my husband disagreed and told him that he was the one who wanted to leave, not me, Phil told him to stop protecting me. I was the jew and it was my fault we were leaving for a messianic congregation. I was proud, I was arrogant, etc, etc. Sound familiar??
The night we left there (New Year’s Eve 2003) was the first time since I got saved that I thought about suicide. I couldn’t believe the leadership was treating us this way, I thought Christians were different, etc.. I felt betrayed to the core of being. But again, I thought the worst had happened.
We planned to attend one more homegroup to say goodbye. But we were informed by Phil not to attend. We called our leaders, who also happened to be our best friends. They informed us we could not come to the meeting, as a matter of fact we weren’t allowed into their home again. We then discovered that all the cg leaders were sharing the same information with all the members that night- we were heretics and for the protection of their souls and their children’s souls, they should stay away from us. We lost every friendship and connection we had that night, leaving us out in the cold as we started from scratch at the messianic congregation.
We attended that congregation for eight months before my husband told me he no longer believed in Jesus. I went to the leader, who told me it was a phase, just be patient and loving. They met with my husband multiple times until he refused to meet any longer. All the while he was sending me articles and “showing” me every night how “Christians had misinterpreted” or twisted certain passages. I had no one to go to for help or support because we had been ostracized from the only church family we had. I was weak. I was terrified he would leave us and I had no way to support myself or my children. And, I was becoming more and more confused with each “proof” he presented.
Yes, I turned my back on Jesus because I was afraid of being abandoned by the only person left in my life. I wished I had some other choice, someone to help me, but I didn’t, and I wimped out. If Sovereign Grace Ministries hadn’t been so hateful and controlling, but full of the loving, encouraging relationships I thought, I could have gone back there, but as you all know too well, that isn’t the case. Additionally, the messianic leaders took the same approach, holding a meeting to inform the congregation that we were heretics. In the space of one year we were completely rejected twice by our religious “homes”.
So where are we 5+ years later? My husband has converted to Orthodox Judaism. The rest of us have tried, but cannot live this life. I cannot live without Jesus and as I said recommitted my life just Sunday morning, the first time I have been in a church since 2003. I am still confused about the Scriptures, but I cannot live wanting to die, which is where I have been for more than three years now.
I am still scared. I don’t know what will happen to my family. My husband says he won’t divorce me, but he is under orders from the Rabbis not to discuss religion with me. My daughter wants to try Christianity, and my son, I don’t know. He says he doesn’t believe in a personal God (he’s 18), but when he heard that I had a good experience at this church he said he might try it. He’s been burnt and he’s old enough to remember it.
I know this has been long, and included non-SGM stuff, but I truly believe that the abuses of Sovereign Grace Ministries are at the core of these issues. And, I believe that God will hold them accountable for what has happened to my family.
I found a Sovereign Grace Ministries church through a co-worker and have been attending for 8 years now. My husband was not a believer (I came to Christ first in our marriage) and he got saved there, through the love and prayers and reaching out of the members during that time.
Here were are 8 years later faced with the possibility of HAVING to leave. Not because we feel we should or want to, but because, NEWS FLASH: Sovereign Grace Ministries does not support missionaries. We shared about a year ago the call God has been speaking to us for a LONG TIME with our friends at church, then leadership. We have gotten nothing… Nothing. Total black hole, except for a few, count-them-on-one-hand kindred spirits. Out of many 100s at our church. No, “that’s GREAT! Good for you!” or, “Awesome! We’re with you!”. It’s WEIRD. TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY WEIRD the reaction we have gotten. The looks say it all: shock, then disbelief, then “are you approved to be missionaries??”, “did you talk this over with leadership??”. They don’t say that, of course, but the face and the silence says it all.
Little to no support; and I mean moral, spiritual, emotional – forget about financial. Sovereign Grace Ministries just does not have room in their missiology for missionaries. Pastors are the only ones called, forget the rest of the Body in spreading the gospel. The local church is raised up as the end of all ends. You can go on a pre-approved, church-sanctioned e-trip, just don’t think of going on your own or thinking you could hear the voice of God if it’s outside Sovereign Grace Ministries. The response has been COLD, indifferent nothingness, from everybody save a few handful of friends, mostly missions-minded, foreigners who know first-hand the tremendous need abroad.
I could list any number of incidents of the lack of support, cold shoulder, shunning-type experiences that have left us continually dazed and confused, but I won’t right now. After finding this site, and reading the testimonies, I can see clearly what I have always seen, just didn’t want to accept maybe. The top-down, organizational-type structure of leadership within Sovereign Grace Ministries does not allow the common folk, you and me, the Body of Christ, to be free to pursue our calling and fulfill our giftings and destiny in Christ IF IT DOES NOT FIT THE SGM CHURCH MODEL.
We are deeply saddened, maybe me more than my husband (a natural leader, does what he has to do no matter what other people say or don’t say – love him!). Today I was in the shower and felt a feeling I haven’t felt in a while – GRIEF. It really hurts. It hurts that the very body of Christ, and the pastors “called” to oversee our souls blah blah are missing it. They’ve totally missed the point. It seems, sadly, that the Sovereign Grace Ministries laypeople are kept from ever becoming or DOING anything for Christ and His Kingdom, what they were created to do (Eph 2:10), because if you’re not called to be a pastor, or CG leader, there’s just no place for you. And that’s the stinking truth. Sad and tragic.
It is deeply grievous to us that we have to LEAVE our church home to fulfill our calling in Christ when the very church that is supposed help us live out being the part of the body we were created to be ACTIVELY DISCOURAGES it.
Anyway, so be it. God is bigger. God is bigger. I love Jesus, he’s my life, I follow Him, not the church I attend. The Shepherd leads, the sheep know His voice and follow Him.
After 8 years we have NO ONE, no support base to go as missionaries. We have to start all over from scratch, because we’ve been forced to. Not because we want to. So… terrible. Where do we go from here? Only God knows, but we must press on.
Later I will post my real name and our missions website so you can read about us and see that we’re really not as crazy as everyone in our Sovereign Grace Ministries church now thinks we are – you know, for stepping out and actually following Christ’s commands.
My experience at Covenant Life Church was basically my teenage years. My family became deeply embedded in the church where we attended the youth ministry, care group, Covenant Life School, and Sunday worship. I met some incredible people who I am grateful to still call friends today. I am most grateful for the fact that I became a Christian at Covenant Life Church and will never regret my time there.
I am stronger today because of my journey. I am also profoundly thankful to have met my husband there. We are celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary this year and enjoying our two beautiful little girls. It is my girls that I think about though when Covenant Life Church comes to mind. I could never let them go to a place that could hurt and confusion them in some many ways that I experienced.
My parents would receive phone calls after church from other parents explaining that my sister and I were stumbling blocks due to our clothing or due to our discussions with other teens about activities we did with our parents approval that were not approved by other parents (ie dating, music choices, up coming social events). As time went on, my parents tried to play the game of the inner circle and they cracked down on our lifestyle.
I was living with my biological mom at the time and my step mom and dad found out that I started dating this guy from my CLS class (my husband now). Knowing how the church frowned on this, they sought counsel from their care group leader, my care group leader, and their pastor. They all came to the decision that for me to really be the Christian that I claimed to be, I would need to move out of my Mom’s house and move in permanently with my dad and Step mom.
I have memories that I will never forget about writing my biological mom a letter on my 16th birthday telling her that “God told me to move out of her house in order to be a better Christian.” The next year went fine because all the people that I spent time with at the Church approved of my new living situation and I was even allowed to maintain a friendship with the classmate that I tried to date under the supervision of both his parents and my own.
Unfortunately, some of my female classmates did not approve and our relationship was constantly under pressure from the church and the school. We were finally told we would not graduate if we did not severe all ties. In a class of 16, that was pretty tough. I ended up dealing with severe depression and suicidal situations that were dismissed by pastors as more evidence of my sin and lack of faith. I moved back in with my mom and tried to fly below the radar until graduation. Miraculously, my now husband and I both made it through. We lost most of our friends in the process and were left questioning the church, our parents, and organized religion in general.
During some of my roughest times at the church, I was gratefully transitioning in to my college phase and I choose to go out of state to a Christian college. It is by the Grace of God that I was able to go to an amazing Christian college that allowed me to see that Christians came in all different shapes and sizes.
It was funny at first because I instinctively name dropped about Covenant Life Church, CLS, and Joshua Harris to anyone that would listen. I soon realized that no one knew who what I was talking about and both the students and teachers were more interested in studying the bible and great preachers instead.
I am also grateful for the college experience I had because my family that did stay in the area and simply left ( AKA got asked to leave ) had a much longer road to recovery. They also still harbor a lot of bitterness and resentment.
I came across SGM Refuge when things erupted at Sovereign Grace Ministries earlier last week. Although I don’t agree with all the comments on SGM Refuge and SGM Survivors, the blogs and comments quickly made me realize that I am not alone in discerning the cult-like environment within Sovereign Grace Ministries. Let me also emphasize that the symptoms and problems described online are widespread throughout Sovereign Grace Ministries, not just Covenant Life Church.
My brief story:
I was a member of two Sovereign Grace Ministries churches in the DC-MD-VA area for a total of 8 years. During my first visit to a caregroup they spent over 45 minutes praising the attributes of the pastor. When I question the cgl about this, I was pointed to 1 Tim 5:17 – you know, the “double honor” idea.
The months turned into years and I witnessed nothing short of idol worship being given to the pastoral staff. It’s so easy to see that NOW, but I was so taken-in by their “observations” of my pride and sinful judgments. The papal hierarchy, manipulations and severe pressure to conform (“cult of personality”) were also rampant at both churches. The entire eight years I felt the Holy Spirit prodding me: something-is-wrong-here-but-I-can’t-put-my-finger-on-it.
I confronted pastors at both churches on these issues – citing multiple examples and how they contradicted scripture. Both made it clear that it was inconceivable to think they weren’t 100% correct (okay, 98%…), and that the apostolic team didn’t interpret the passages that way (“this is just how we do things within Sovereign Grace Ministries”).
It’s now been over a year since I pulled my family out of Sovereign Grace Ministries. It was hard leaving friends, brothers and sisters. We found a church that points us to Christ, not just the Cross. I’ve noticed how many people on the forums also commented on Sovereign Grace Ministries’ focus on the act of the crucifixion, vs worshiping the [risen!!] person of Jesus Christ. So easy to see that now…still kicking myself (repenting) of not yielding to the “Still Quiet Voice” I knew pre-SGM.
WE SEE’S STORY
Our family attended a Sovereign Grace Ministries church for 3 years. We were a prime target. We left our previous church due to….It’s a long story, involving a inappropriate and dishonest leadership. It was a painful time, but God was faithful!
Anyway….. we began attending Sovereign Grace Ministries. The Pastor met with us and said that his church was very “hard to get in to” but it is very easy to leave. He was honest! The people were very friendly – at first. We attended membership classes for a year, before we were granted membership. Lots of classes (weekly) to make sure we were the type of members they wanted. We attended a Parent and Youth TAG. We also attended a family TAG group. As time progressed we were invited to attend a Marriage TAG group.
The youth TAG was very disturbing. The men met with the boys and almost every lesson was begun with “I’ve been really busy and have not had time to prepare, so, I’m just going to read the book out loud.” (Josh Harris’ book) My husband thought it very weird that almost every session the leader would ask the men/boys to discuss their sexual “triggers”. WOW! Eventually, my husband was so disturbed by the inappropriateness of the topic (fathers and young sons 12, and teenaged sons 18 sharing what “triggers” immoral thoughts.), that he stopped attending.
The Marriage TAG was also odd. Couples would sit around together and the men would talk about how “non-submissive” their wives were! At the end of the class, several of the wives would be crying. It was very disturbing! The men were so controlling! When my husband voiced his concerns, he was told that women needed to submit to their husbands.
There are many other things which happened during our time at this church. Most of it was awful! Our children were told by leaders that they were not very smart, that they had anger issues, that they were full of pride, etc. One child was actually told that, “it was not their place to ask any questions about anything. Their job was to, “make the leadership look good.””
We still were not sure if we should leave or not. Everyone was so unhappy. We were constantly being told that we were wretched sinners (which we are) but Christ, But God! The “bad news” was constantly repeated, but rarely was the “good news” — we have freedom in Christ! He paid the debt! He has freed us!
We decided that we would meet with the pastor and discussed our concerns with him. It was quite an emotional meeting, but in the end, we had not made a final decision. ”Maybe it was us,” we thought. Maybe we were prideful. Maybe we were imagining being shunned, etc. We prayed and left the meeting.
A few days later, we returned to church for an activity. No one spoke to us until we were leaving. A board member’s wife said that she heard we had met with the pastor. I was surprised, but asked how she had heard that information. She replied that the pastor had sent out an email to the leadership, saying that we were leaving the church.
I was shocked! We had not even decided what we were going to do. We were actually leaning towards staying. My husband arranged for another meeting with the pastor to discuss the subject. When they met, the pastor said that he was sure that we were going to leave, but if we’d like, he could send an email stating that we had changed our mind and were now going to stay!
Wow! I’m not sure what he eventually did, but shortly after that meeting we left SGC. We have be away for almost a year and have not heard from anyone — except when we bump into them, etc. Were they told not to contact us? Possibly. I guess it doesn’t matter, really.
Looking back, we are actually thankful that we were treated so badly, because if we were accepted, we may have stayed and perhaps would have become completely deceived! God was, and is, faithful to us. We have learned many lessons.
We are active in a local church and L-O-V-E it! It is a doctrinally sound church with kind leadership and lovely members. The pastor is an expository preacher and loves God and his flock. It is not perfect — but neither are we! It’s a good fit! I look back at our painful Sovereign Grace Ministries church experience and am thankful that through all those difficult times, He never left us. We have been set free!
JOCK LENZI’S STORY
My wife and I were a part of Covenant Life Church and Lord of Life Church in Indiana, PA, for nearly 8 years (1984 – 1996).
I had been an assistant home group leader until my wife had a nervous breakdown in December of 1990. She was clearly postpartum, as she just had our fifth and last child. On top of that I foolishly decided that she should have a tubal ligation only a few days later. She was also homeschooling our two oldest. But because of this, which translated into me “not taking care of my family….” I was removed.
At the same time there was another person who was a home group leader, whose two children were in rebellion, and was not removed. (I’m not saying that he necessarily should have been removed; probably not in fact.) Also, when my wife was having mental-emotional problems it was my fault; but when the wives of certain other men in the church, even leaders, were having similar problems, it was because of a chemical imbalance.
There has clearly been a double standard as to who is in and who is out. I have also become aware of many other such occurrences. The way that I discovered I was no longer an assistant home group leader was when I went to my church mailbox it was no longer there. It’s similar to them painting over Larry Tomczak’s door, but on a much smaller scale.
When the radical change in PDI’s doctrine occurred I strongly spoke out against it. At that time there was hardly anyone, if anyone, in our local congregation who agreed with TULIP. But they eventually became heavily indoctrinated, sort of the way the JW’s do via their Watchtower and Awake literature, much the same way our pastor previously was.
In fact, at one point, before my pastor, Mark Altrogge gave in, during one of our three-hour knock down face to face meetings; I asked him how long he had been a Christian. It was like 25 years. I asked him if during that time he read God’s Word regularly. The answer was yes. Then I asked him if he read it prayerfully during that time. Again the answer was yes. Then I asked him when he came to believe in TULIP. He knew at that point that he had just got busted and he uncomfortably admitted that it had been about two years earlier when C.J. started propagating and later pushing it on people.
Mark then agreed to read any book of my choice which took an opposing view to Calvinism. I asked him to read Robert Shank’s “Elect in the Son”. He read it and about three weeks later came up to me before a church service and called me aside and, very quietly and almost secretively, told me that he completely agreed with Robert Shank’s position.
Now he had to break the news to Brent Detwiler or Dave Harvey or whoever was “Over” us at that time. They were panicked as he was one of their main songwriters. He had actually discussed pulling some of his songs that had a Calvinistic bent to them.
He was asked to write a position paper and he asked me to help. I did, but it was very lengthy. So Mark wrote his own, which was very pointed and well written. He then submitted it to the PDI leadership. Also during that time he had even seriously talked with me about leaving PDI, and we discussed whether or not he should turn the church building over to them.
After submitting his paper Mark was asked to “dialogue” with them on the subject. When I asked him how the supposed dialogue was going he said that they gave him several books to read and discuss, like Anthony Hoekema’s “Saved by Grace”. Then C.J. even invited him to speak at Covenant Life Church, which of course was PDI’s mothership.
I very much doubt if he would have ever smelled CLC’s pulpit had they not been going all out to dissuade him from what he actually believed. It was either conform, conform, conform, or out, out, out.
Towards the end of our time at that church I continued to address many of the following things listed below, but Mark refused to hear. I had been saying and have continued to say that:
People of Destiny / Sovereign Grace Ministries leaders and local pastors are elitists who think they have a corner on the truth; they are very proud and arrogant; they view themselves as the enlightened ones, while viewing all other Christians and their church affiliations as the unenlightened; in other words, those who do not agree with their theology are looked down on as second-class Christians and denominations; they are manipulative and controlling; much of the time they act like a bunch of clones; and that they are absolutely obsessed with TULIP.
Over the years there have been lots of hypocrisy and a clear double-standard regarding how they treat certain people and the way they treat certain other people. I’ve always likened Sovereign Grace Ministries to the Holy Roman Catholic Church. At the very top you have the infallible Pope CJ Manahey. Then the cardinals, arch-bishops, bishops, priests, etc.
In his 7/10/11 Sunday evening message at Covenant Life Church, it was refreshing to hear Josh Harris finally admit to several of the same things. In Brent’s “documents” I found the part about CJ blackmailing Larry, Doris, and Justin sickening and reprehensible. Isn’t it interesting how even though C.J. is supposedly so close and in tune with God, it took him some 13 years to acknowledge his sins of pride, hypocrisy, manipulation and mistreatment of others; and now finally he has gotten around to making things right with Larry. It so obvious, as is evidenced in Brent’s documents what an idol Reformed theology is within Sovereign Grace Ministry..
Case in point, within these documents, C.J. stated that it would have been OK and that he wouldn’t blackmail the Tomczak family, if Larry left the movement, but did not say that it was over “doctrinal” differences. It has become clear that C.J. is not the most humble person on the face of the earth. As a movement they need to realize their facade of humility is nothing more than false humility, which of course is just another form of pride. It is apparent that C.J. has always craved adulation and the leaders of People of Destiny / Sovereign Grace Ministry have always fallen over each other when introducing each other. And if they happen to be introducing one of their gods like RC Sproul it is downright scary.
As a post script I want to state that before CJ changed in the early 1990’s, he was my very most favorite Christian teacher. In my cassette/CD library I have by far more of CJ’s messages than anyone else. Unfortunately, his desire for prestige, power, and recognition made him the arrogant autocrat that he is today.
I don’t know where you stand doctrinally, but why all the fuss? Brent and CJ and all the other SGM leaders and their underlings should not be upset about any of the things that are going on at this time since God foreordained it from all eternity; as He did with all demonic activity, and every rape, murder, disease, child molestation, etc. True? Over and over again their own theology mocks them.
I am a teen and have been attending Covenant Life Church for my entire life (17 yrs). I grew up around all of this stuff and accepted Christianity to be what I was taught from Covenant Life Church. I was fed the doctrine of Covenant Life Church when I was first starting out in my walk with the Lord and all throughout since. I was always under this impression- You go to church, and whatever the pastors at Covenant Life Church say is right. To me, because the pastors taught how humility is supposed to look and spoke in the most “humble” voice ever and with such sincere and calming slow gentle tones…Anything they said had to be true. This was earlier in my walk before I really ventured to question whether what they teach could be wrong. I felt that if I ever thought that, that I was cursed for good.
Now, I want to say that even though I have never met with a pastor about issues, the heavy Sovereign Grace Ministries / Covenant Life Church values still affect me as a teen just as much as it affects a lot of the adults. (Even if I have never been slammed by pastors during a counseling meeting.)
What do I mean by that? Well, teens are taught what their parents have been taught. And since there seems to be too heavy of a vice on “not questioning authority”, those teens get brained washed and never want to question whether what they are being taught is true. A lot of my friends would come up and tell me it was wrong to date/ like a girl if I was a teen. There was no indication of any impurity, but right off the bat they said it was wrong. I would get prescribed the good ol’ award winning, top seller, teen sensational book… “I kissed dating goodbye”. Of course I felt soooo happy and full of joy to hear I needed to read that book just because I liked a girl and therefore was idolatrous, sinful, and impure. Heheh…. not….. It hurt me soo much and still hurts me today. My teenage friends would over and over tell me I was wrong for doing something that the bible says is very natural: loving someone of the opposite gender and in the main goal of one day marrying them.
Another thing I recently have been hit with is… In light of all of the things going on with Sovereign Grace Ministries and CJ.. I have come to realize so many things I was blind to. I realized that there were major things that were concerning with certain aspects of Covenant Life Church / Sovereign Grace Ministries. One thing from my point of view is there is an unhealthy use of grace and an overpowering message of grace. Don’t get me wrong, I am full on for grace.. But when it becomes a thing were you can never stand up for what’s right, is a safe haven to continue with sin, and/or smoothes over grievous sins such as abuse, etc…Then I am very concerned/ angry. [Romans 6:1-3]
I would go to my friends for advice of how to handle certain situations (specifically a situation that involved one of my friends being abused.)
My friends told me stuff like, ”look, you need to not be bitter at this person, you need to just forgive them…I think having the authorities involved is way out of the question.. The pastors are more qualified.” I was not bitter, but was angry that this incident was going on, not stopping, that it was being hidden, and not being dealt with. [1 Corinthians 5:13]
I would get that response over and over. Seemed like nobody was willing to support me and understand anything. Many told me I was self righteous and wasn’t forgiving/forgetting, and didn’t understand because I was a teen.
To me… if someone is abusing someone and is hiding it, not stopping, and doesn’t care about what they are doing… something NEEDS TO BE DONE…cant just shove it under a rug. I’m tired of being wussified by being shoved down for every time I want to stand up for what’s right!! I cant stand it one bit!!!!!!
Right now I will say I believe the friends who told me that were wimps. I know that may sound strong but I am tired of this wimpy ‘go with the flow’ mindset Covenant Life Church has laid. Can nobody stand up for what’s right anymore?! The teen world of course is filled with “oh it’s not my place to get involved…plus I don’t want any trouble to penetrate my bubble”, but I have seen it in adults too. I’m sorry but as a teen to see adults, especially leaders of my church not take a stand for what’s right, it realllly doesn’t look cool at all to me.
We are at war with sin. You’re never going to see a soldier decked out with firepower walk up to an enemy who has only a knife and say “oh please don’t hurt me!!! Please oh please oh please don’t hurt me!!!” No, he would use the power he has to take out that opponent. We as Christians should realize we got firepower from the Lord to take out sin and resist Satan who only has a little dinky knife. And we need to use it! We can’t just be driven by our sins and act like there is no battle.
Covenant Life Church seems to view sin as something that’s just normal. Its almost like its considered incurable and that we are certain to sin at some point each day. While that may be true I really don’t think from a teen standpoint that we should expect to sin. We should expect not to sin since we are reborn by the blood of Christ!
That’s the basic gist of my experience at Covenant Life Church as a teen. After leaving I have lost most of my friends and hope to be able to get some support through the ex member blogs and help other people too who need support. This has really been a dark shadow in my whole life so far and a huge trial. Thanks.
I was born again in the mid-1990s in a Spirit-filled non-denominational church. It was a beautiful time as a content and single new believer for many years. In 2003, my husband and I were married and we were blessed with a healthy, beautiful daughter. Early on in our marriage, my husband was experiencing problems getting a job in his field. I have always been a working mother.
When our daughter was about 2, my husband was offered a job in his field at Northwestern in Chicago (we live in Maryland) and off he went with plans that we would follow shortly after.
During this time, as a new mother, I started attending a SGM church in the area (we were introduced to SGM during a time when we were starting an ESL program at our church, so we fellowshipped with some members of the SGM ESL ministry). The people were all so friendly and I was lovingly challenged in my role as mother. Initially, it was a blessing. I had never been in a congregation before where most of the women stayed at home and at first I found this to be refreshing and even progressive.
After about a year, my husband was offered a position in the DC area, so he moved back to the area. By this time, I had pretty much stopped fellowshipping with our prior church and was only fellowshipping at the SGM church.
Initially my husband also enjoyed fellowshipping there although he also missed the Spirit-filled type of worship and fiery preaching that we had at our home church. We started attending Care Groups. I was the only woman that worked.
As time went on, things started to change. Often times at the children’s birthday parties, before someone would ask my name, they would ask me whether my child was homeschooled or attended the church’s school….I actually tried to enroll my daughter in the church’s school, but since we were only in Starting Point and we were not official members yet, we were declined. My daughter started to question why I dont stay at home and she started to experience some separation issues that she had not had prior to us being in the new environment. What I saw was refreshing and progressive, became an area of condemnation and a heavy burden for me.
Our marriage was starting to fall apart. I would openly discuss what was happening in Care Group meetings and people would always comment that it was “refreshing” that I was so open. I wondered to myself what the purpose would be to get together if people were not going to freely share what was going on. We sought mariage counseling from our CG leaders and then we were supposed to be escalated to our pastor. I contacted our pastor for several months asking when we could receive the marriage counseling. We were told that there was a backlog. By the time that I did meet with our pastor, my husband had left our family again. I asked him why it took so long and he said that he had been really busy with pastor retreats, vacations, etc. He met with me monthly and I did begin to experience some healing.
Initially, our Care Group leaders were really supportive of me but they began to ostracize my husband. I thought if I can forgive him and want reconciliation, who are they to turn their backs on him when he had not offended them. I started to feel very alone. I was told by my Care Group leader that it would take a “miracle” to save our marriage. My husband was removed from the CG contact lists even after I asked that he be kept on the lists in case anyone in the CG wanted to reach out to him. The CG leader denied my request stating that my husband was not a member and that he did not think it was wise for a variety of reasons.
It was very uncomfortable for me to attend a family care group when my family was in a crisis and my husband not there with me. I felt a lot of shame. I was not able to be a stay-at-home mom. I have to work everyday and get babysitters to help in caring for my daughter. I dont have a husband that can support our family with his income, in fact our family is falling apart….After several requests, I was not assigned to a new care group as the church was having difficulty identifying a care group that had single mothers in it is what I was told. Since we are not divorced, I could not attend a Singles care group. After not fellowshipping for several months, I asked if I could attend our care group’s women’s fellowships only and the pastor agreed.
I continued to attend church and even started to attend the Single Parents ministry for a while. The Single Parents ministry is run by a pastor and his wife and all of the lay leaders are married. The men and women have to pray in separate rooms…..
My husband is back in the area, but not living with our family. Our care group leaders have not asked for his number to reach out to him in any way. One of the CG families visited him at the restaurant that he works at and I thought that was a kind gesture. I sort of feel that it may be a relief for the CG that I am no longer part of the regular meetings so that everyone can get on with their marriages and our marriage problem is no longer the big pink elephant in the room.
BUT, by the grace of God, I am still standing and pressing ahead. As much as I would love to be able to stay home and spend more time with my precious daughter, I cant. So, I spend as much time with that I can in the evenings and weekends. I am the class mom and try to make her events at school when I can. I have been blessed that my job has also enabled me to work from home sometimes.
We visited our home church, and I have thought abut returning. Although I still feel so much shame about the state of our marriage. I NEVER thought that I would be living as a single parent. We are not divorced. The word is so hard to say and think about.
For the past couple of weeks, I have chosen to rest and have devotional time with my daughter than to rush to church. The weeks are so full of rushing that I feel we really need some downtime.
With all of the recent changes at the SGM church and pastors and congregants leaving, it feels like so much is shifting stand. So the Lord reminds me to stand on His solid rock.
My daughter reecently completed the Summer Celebration. After the week was over I asked her how it was. She responded that it was fun but that all they talked and sang about was sin. She said that it made her feel a bit down and without joy.
I really feel like we are at a crossroads. I dont want to be a “Church hopper” but at the same time I believe that we need a healthy church right now. But then I wonder if there is such thing. As most people say, “all churches have their problems”.
I feel optimistic about the future, but I am drained over all that has happened over the past couple of years. We are leaving for vacation on Saturday for a week and we are looking forward to being able to rest for a while…
Just sharing my story, which has brought some release.
I joined SGM in 2002 after hearing C J Mahaney speak at Stoneleigh Bible Week 2000 (run by Terry Virgo and Newfrontiers) — it was a small church plant in Bristol, in the United Kingdom and was a member of the growing church for 2 years.
I started to have personal problems get worse — linked to being abused when I was a child at school and having issues with my sexuality (I don’t believe in using labels). The issues were essentially depression, self-harm and anorexia. I kept it secret for a long time and then my parents suggested going and speaking to my care group leader who I probably had the best relationship with out of the church leaders.
I did so, and they (CGL and wife) were initially very receptive but said they would go and tell the senior pastor. I then had a follow-up meeting with senior pastor and CGL and again it was initially okay. But the next meeting turned nasty — in between meetings the senior pastor had met with Peter Griesley (UK “apostle” as was then and now on SGM Board) and told me that the issues were related to sin and they suspected I was in an active gay relationship although he admitted he had no proof. They presented me with four ultimatums, which involved moving home to my parents, and being wholly accountable to my homophobic father.
I had two weeks to decide, and so being rather shell shocked I contacted some close friends including my former senior pastor all of whom were horrified at the authoritarian demands. Being ignorant of SGM and what would happen, I rather naively thought that if I went and said I would not be complying and felt it best to leave and move on, that would be that.
The meeting was awful — the senior pastor was very shocked and then got progressively nastier and told me that I could not resign, as I was in sin. If I persisted, they would write to all churches in the area and tell them of my sin (he actually admitted he followed this through with one Newfrontiers church in Bristol), they would tell the whole church of my sin and any members would be told not to speak to me if they met me. I was shocked but felt this confirmed I had made the right decision.
Being shocked I thought again rather naively that I would write to the SGM Board (Mahaney, Detweiler, Shank and Harvey) and explain what happened. I received a very short note from Harvey saying that Peter Griesley was the father of the church and it was not their concern. I then received an extremely terse email from PG saying that I was wrong but they would “speak to me if I wished” — which I declined.
I have had no contact for five years until January last year when I felt I could not tolerate the splits with my family (who are still in SGM) and being forbidden to attend the SGM church, so with the help of Steve who opened up the process of reconciliation I finally had some meetings — firstly with Peter Griesley and then with the senior pastors of the church. The meeting with the senior pastors was really great, and they apologised for acting as they did and said that I would be welcome back at the SGM church (I have been back once and warmly welcomed by them).
So all in all — largely a happy story — I hope it gives hope to some that reconciliation IS possible and I must be honest — it’s SO great being rid of bitterness and anger against the SGM leaders, finally I feel free!
Still very grateful to this site and SGM Refuge for helping me realise I was NOT cast out to Satan and was not alone, and indeed having a voice when the leaders refused to contact me or care for me. And still very concerned for all those hurt and abused by SGM, and of course have a deep love and concern for SGM being as my family are still in it and so many friends here.
SEEKING THE CITY TO COME’S STORY
I attended an SGM church from 1992-2000, with a little time off around ’93.
I had been a Christian for many years and was a seminary student, so I immediately thought several things at ______ were a little off, but I had my reasons for going. Because of a recent major loss in my life, I found the sung worship part of the service to be a place of healing, as I literally cried out to the Lord as we sang. The tears that flowed were healing.
But I was put off by the lack of solid teaching (I always felt as if I were on starvation rations while I attended) and the top-down structure, among other things. I had never experienced such a strange form of church govt. in the several churches I’d been a part of over the years. I found it most troubling but didn’t really have anyone to discuss my concerns with so I just pondered it on my own. Although I tithed (but never gave to the misnamed “mission fund”), I was never privy to any sort of financial documents or budgets. I always thought it strange that the paid pastors had the ability to determine their own wages, etc. Seemed like the foxes minding the hen house, if you will. Now I will say, I was never a member, so perhaps those documents were available to members. In any case, my “crap detector” was giving off enough warning signals that kept me from formally linking up with this organization.
However, I did attend membership classes and went as far as having the pastoral interview in which, as we were finishing up, the pastor, actually one of my favorites (no longer in pastoral ministry but still attending, I believe), remarked, “I believe God is giving you to us.” I have no idea what I said in reply, but I remember thinking that God was going to have to communicate that to me before I signed on!
Because I had been involved in very missions-active churches, I was puzzled by the lack of any sort of mission outreach. In fact, I did raise this concern in my membership interview. It was 1996, an Urbana conference year and I asked what would happen if some college students went to Urbana and came away from it sensing the call of God into foreign mission work. The gist of the reply was that they would have to find another church because PDI didn’t do missions.
I rejoiced at Celebration 1998 and maybe 1999 when John Piper said something to the effect that the Church needed to send out its young people to hard places—to go and die, if need be, for Jesus’ sake and for the eternal welfare of those who are lost (how I wish I could find those tapes—JP preached powerfully and passionately and I was so sad because I knew he was speaking a different language and that his words were falling on deaf ears. And I knew that unless an edict came down from CJM, this aspect of PDI life would never change, though Jesus Himself issued the command).
I remember that the pastors were preaching through the book of Acts (sort of) and the sen. pastor coming to odd conclusions about the missionary aspect of the early Church. I think it was in response to this message series that I commented to one of the other pastors that I thought ______ was playing fast and loose with the text. (I had heard really good expository preaching over the years so I had a sense of when I was being snookered and that someone was trying to tell me that the text was saying something it wasn’t.)
Clearly, I was totally clueless about PDI culture at the time, so I can only imagine that my comments found their way back to the senior. Not that I care, of course.
I could go on but will spare you. I left in 2000 for so many reasons but I suppose the bottom line for me was that I was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. But the lack of serious Bible study; the Stepford Wives approach to people; the homogeneity in thinking (or at least the attempt to produce this); and so many other things which wear on the soul merely confirmed that this was not the place for me.
OLD TIMER’S STORY
I can’t use my name or location. We were in PDI for 12-13 yrs. I started reading other books, checking out internet prophecy, looking into other doctrine and realized that what was being taught and force fed to us wasn’t exactly what I wanted our family to hear. Each Sunday at the end of the message I would sit there feeling the weight of condemnation….because the Lord was dealing with me to leave until I finally told HIM, ‘Ok, I’ll go.” There was no joy, no victory in Jesus, no Blood of the Lamb who took away the sins of the world, no love lifted me…..just focus on what a worm you are until you go crazy. We couldn’t even say that someone had a good heart, no, we had to say they had a horrible black sin-infested, disgusting, revolting, deceitfully wicked heart above all things, ad nauseum, etc—on and on and on.
Now, this was way before the blogs and I thought I was crazy. I felt so alone, isolated and terrified. But I knew that I had heard God and HE said leave so I did. Still it was extremely difficult because of reasons I can’t even share publically…all I can say is that God is faithful and HE will provide for us and be the Father He says He is! The last few years that I was there I only remember the Holy Spirit moving 2 times…….and he used young teens to do it. A visitor from another country said it was dry as dust there on a Sunday morning and it was.
I wondered why people even went to church if they didn’t even want to know what HE was saying to them or wanted them to do. Why didn’t the leaders show folks how to know God for themselves and then let God tell the people what HE wanted them to do. Another lady who left said that the leaders don’t need to tell me how to spend my time because God can tell me what He wants me to do for the area. I knew how church money was spent and that regular tithers wouldn’t appreciate some of that. I saw much hypocrisy in the leaders and didn’t appreciate it…..they said one thing in public but another thing in private. The same standard they used to measure others was never applied to themselves. They sure loved to hear themselves talk.
The elitism and superiority was more than I could bear. If you weren’t in our church you were a heathen and going to hell. Other churches weren’t even Christians.
After I left it was such a relief….no more condemnation, no more double standards, no more hypocrisy.
We have friends still there and they are stuck. They see and observe what goes on but don’t leave—just attend out of tradition and routine.
FORMER CLCER’S STORY
I was in CLC from 1983 to 2000 (with some visiting before that while in college). Initially I learned a lot about the Lord, but then the church became reformed and C.J. became solemn and condemning. There was lots of legalism and tons of awkwardness between single men and women. At a time when I needed serious counseling for a family crisis, C.J. preached against Christian counseling for a year. That was tough for me when in a vulnerable spot, but thank God I continued to pursue what was best for me instead of following the pastor’s opinion. After hearing about sin ad nauseum, feeling like I had to edit everything I said in care group, and being told I was “self-focused” when I was clinically depressed, I got tired of it and threw in the towel. I had started to see C.J.’s controlling personality and how others were snowballed. When I left, I would find myself smiling for no reason. It was great to be free of the legalism. A friend told me after I left that leaving the church was good for me and asked what happened. I replied that he was seeing the real me, since I wasn’t free in CLC to say or do things that truly reflected my personality.
SCALES FALLING OFF’S STORY
I posted the following three posts in 2008 shortly before leaving CrossWay in Charlotte (Brent and then Mickey’s church). I just found them and re-read them for the first time in 3 years. We left shortly after I posted here (Spring 2008) and it’s amazing to me how these issues have come out. If the SGM leadership was truly humble and “teachable” they certainly had many opportunities to foresee what they are now reaping.
I’ve been reading the SGM Survivor forum for a few days. I’m a current Sovereign Grace Ministries member in the southeastern US. My closest friend and his family just officially left the church this week. In the 6 years my wife and I have been members, we’ve had numerous close friends leave. I’m beginning to understand why.
I’m posting on this thread because it started off with the topic of CJ’s message on submitting to the leadership. The last time CJ was at my church he spoke on a similar passage (1 Cor. 3), where Paul warns the Corinthians not to align themselves with a particular leader, saying (paraphrasing) “Apollos led me to the Lord, so I follow him” nor should we say “Paul shared the Gospel with me so I belong to him.” The whole point of the passage was to say that the leaders in the 1st century, though worthy of support and respect, were not the head of the church.
But CJ actually used this passage, and somehow turned it upside down, to turn it into an opportunity to bring up our Sr. Pastor and Brent Detwiler and honor them for having led the church so well. It became one of those “it’s appropriate and right to honor these two men” speeches. I couldn’t believe it. And everyone stood and clapped and it was all so nice and an absolute perversion of scripture.
Anway, I could look past that because it was isolated, or so I thought, and I figured CJ had come into town to bolster support for the local leadership, like a good CEO. But lately the scales are dropping off and I’m beginning to understand how the emphasis on our sin nature, on our unworthiness, and on submission to our self-appointed leaders make a dangerous combination.
I too love the folks at SGM. We’ve benefited tremendously from many fine examples of loving servant-heartedness and care, as well as many excellent practical teachings. But it has become difficult to feel like a non-conformist when I have some differing theological views, or to feel like every time I have a concern or question about how church or care group works, I need to be directed to what my “root sin issues” are. It’s amazing how the leadership “humbly” accepts the praise for the good things in SGM, but, as you pointed out at the top of this post, any failures are due to members who are not submissive enough.
Yes, I’ve had a meeting with our Sr. Pastor, and actually I’m meeting another pastor today to express these things. In past discussions, there has always been a gracious response from the leaders, but then a “let me point you to the cross” approach. You get pointed back at your own failings (of which there are many in my case), and the leadership is kind and sincere, so it’s hard. But who do they listen to? Who are they accountable to? It’s like you said, if there’s any defect in the system, it must be because folks aren’t submitting enough or self-examining their own sin issues enough.
It’s often difficult to point to specifics when having a conversation with those in leadership, it often feels more like a Jedi mind trick. You leave with this kind of “I-don’t-know-what-just-happened-but-there’s-nothing-wrong-with-what-I-was-just-told” kind of feeling.
So I had a meeting this afternoon with my pastor. He was very gracious. Indeed, as is my experience with all of the leadership, these men are genuinely caring and desirous of serving God and doing their jobs the best they know how. I shared my concerns, and he listened to them. He took notes and is bringing them back to the Sr. Pastor.
When he asked me what I wanted, I said I’d like to see some change, some acknowledgement from the pulpit that there are structural defects that have produced undesired results, ie, good people leaving the church for similar reasons – a feeling that the leadership is unapproachable or getting tired of being directed back at one’s own sin whenever one has input for the leadership. I said I’d like to see pastoral accountability to the body, not on a one-on-one basis, but corporately in the form of an elder’s board (that ain’t gonna happen). And I said I’d like to see the pastors belong to care groups and get rid of the sphere groups and “pastor/care group leader retreats and meetings.” Oh, and I also suggested that there be a lot less of the honoring thing.
He did receive these things sincerely, though he said of course that it’s not likely that many of these things will happen. And he did show his concern for me that I not allow my own cynicism to plant a seed of bitterness (that’s common SGM speak, but he was sincere and caring).
At the end of the day, I think there’s just a fundamental flaw with the Apostolic model, particularly since the “apostles” were self-appointed, and they’ve surrounded themselves with men who affirm their apostle-ship. There’s not a lot of room for transparency and questioning, and the “apostle” definitely sets the tone and calls the shots.
What they perceive as their methods for dealing with the logistical or administrative challenges of caring for a large flock, I see as diminishing their ability to relate with the flock. I think they function efficiently, but efficiency’s not always best spiritually. And I think they’ve decided they’ve figured out the best way to do church, and there’s not a whole lot of opportunity to change things.
Committed a sin. Confessed to a pastor. Repented. Years went by without any temptation in that area. I was totally over it. Then, I was confronted and told they should have dealt with my sin differently back when I had confessed it years earlier. I was told I had to follow certain “steps” they declared for me in order to be forgiven of my sin. What? I thought that whole cross thing was for real? I thought it was by grace that I was saved and not works. Now I have to work for my salvation? I was so confused. In private I was told I had “works” to do to earn my salvation. At church they talked about grace. I began to think that meant that the cross, Jesus, and grace was for everyone else but me. There was no hope for me — only for everybody else. My sense of worth dropped to nothing. Ok. Maybe below nothing. I was depressed. angry. suicidal. unloved. unworthy. hopeless. If I did what they required that meant I had to “earn” their love and God’s and that was depressing. I knew I would just have to keep working and keep earning love and that depressed me. The constant struggle to earn their love was already exhausting me. So much to do to keep them all pleased and now there was more. I didn’t do what they required and I was shunned. unloved. unacceptable. That was depressing. No one tried to understand or ask what I was thinking or feeling. All I got from my so called brothers and sisters was a attitude of ‘do as you’re told or you are nothing’. So I believed I was nothing. I meant nothing to God. I had no one that loved me. No one. I responded very badly. I was so angry. Shunned. Scared. More anger. Condemnation. Divorced. Angry. Bitter. Depressed. Suicidal. Lost. Empty. What Do I do now? How do I live through each day without the daily interaction of leadership in my life?….years went by….so hopeless….then…
Church. An amazing pastor. Truth. Grace. Hope. Hope. Hope. Forgiveness. Freedom. Joy. Love. Whole. I love who I am. I am a woman. I really love who I am. I love who I am in Christ. God’s daughter. Beautiful. Made in God’s image. Righteous. Amazed by God. Amazed by Grace. Good news!! Peace. Changed. HOPE. I love Christ’s bride. I love the church. I am Giving. Serving. Loving others. Enjoying God. Really enjoying God. He is awesome! You know, the hard part of telling your story here or anywhere is the sin trump card that CLC holds. It works like this: My sin was 23 years ago. I am so over it. I have no temptation or struggle with that sin at all. BUT, CLC people would throw down that sin like a trump card — act like it just happened yesterday. Anything to discredit someone else in order to pump up their own reputation. They would do that without any knowledge of the woman I am today. I use my real name because I think using someone’s confession as a trump card is wrong. It was wrong for CJ to do it to Larry. Wrong for anyone at CLC to do that to me or anyone else. The fact and sum of my life is that I love Jesus SO much, because I have been forgiven much. So, I use my real name. They can use the sin card but I will use the grace card. I truly believe in grace. Jesus’ blood was enough for my sin. The gospel really is good news! A big thank you to all who had the courage to share where at SGM they have been and their stories. And, a big hug for those that are still afraid to share. I understand. Love and hugs to you out there. In the words of Jason Gray: “I won’t deny, the worst you can say about me. But, I’m not defined by mistakes that I’ve made because God says I’m free.” My freedom was beyond costly. A cost I can’t even comprehend. Thanks be to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May the rest of my life bring glory to Him!
I was never a member of a PDI/SGM church so maybe I don’t have the right to post, but my wife was. She got out around 20 years ago and still carries the emotional and spiritual scars from the neglect and abuse she received at PDI Fairfax.
She was run ragged with church activities and squeezed financially for the building fund ( like everyone else ). She suffered from depression and was told she shouldn’t seek professional help. She went to the leaders with her concerns about the terrible situation at home with her mother’s drinking problem and was minimized and ignored. When her stepfather came on to her she went to the pastor (someone she knew personally) and was blown off and told she had misunderstood things. This was the same pastor who later tried to covered up child sexual abuse ( Happy Mom’s testimony). They were supposed to be looking after her the way a good shepherd would his flock but they treated the victim as the problem.
Finally she had to choose between mental/ emotional health and this insane church system. All those people at that church and especially in here home group who said they loved and cared for her were not sympathetic and loving but shut her out. She lost her relationship with a family where she had helped raise their kids and was practically a member of the family. We were not married or in contact at the time all this took place or I would have helped her. These days I listen to her as she continues to struggle with the sense of betrayal and frustration and the negative messages she brought away about how God sees her and what he expects. I hold her as she cries. She is still afraid that they can hurt her again. On occasion we have argued about attending church. I want to but thanks to PDI/SGM she wants nothing to do with God’s people even though she loves the Lord.
It infuriates me that this harm was done to her (and so many others) supposedly in Jesus’s Name. While I applaud Brent Detwiler for coming forward as he has done I have little sympathy for him or CJ. If this was done in the name of secular politics or as part of corporate culture it would still be reprehensible but that would be expected. Yes Paul corrected Peter in the matter of the Judyisers but nowhere does it say that there was “degifting” or blackmail. CJ and Brent were leaders in this system that perpetrated this fraud and this abuse. If it has come around to bite them, I find a certain poetic justice in that. I believe in God’s forgiveness and that we are to forgive one another, but it tends to be couple to repentance. If the road that brings these men (and the rest of the leadership) to repentance is not a comfortable journey…oh well.
SGM Casualty’s Story
I was part of PDI-turned-SGM for a long time, and there were too many abuses to recount in a post. In a nutshell, leadership puts up an appearance of humility, while being absolutely unwilling to look at very serious cult-like tendencies. Basically, everyone was expected to be cookie-cutter families: Everyone is to home school, only let their children court, support the same hyper-Calvinist doctrines, etc. When my spouse and I decided not to home school, you would have thought we had decided to sell our children into prostitution. We came under so much scrutiny and “evaluation” as to our motives, we ended up doing it out of a sense of shame.
I also took issue with the fact that leadership in our church refused to report very serious cases of child abuse to local officials – even one case of molestation and another of incest. I have a very good friend whose husband confessed to a pastor he had sexually abused their daughter and other heinous acts. One of the pastors met with the couple one time and then told my friend later – when she had asked when they would meet again – that he thought the situation was pretty much dealt with.
Not only is not reporting these abuses against the law, I think it was indicative of their arrogant presumption that they can effectively take on situations that were way over their head. We also had people in the church who obviously had serious mental diseases, but they were only offered minimal counseling (since they would obviously never be able to carry much weight in the church and were thus valued less). And some were encouraged to go off their medication.
If I went into any more detail about our horrific experience with SGM, it would be obvious who we since we were pretty high profile. But I’ll say this … I think they have the best of intentions and really believe they’re zealously upholding biblical truth. But their methodologies are so fraught with inconsistencies and dangerous error, they have hamstrung themselves in their effectiveness. And as much as they uphold the efficacies of biblical accountability, if anyone outside their tight little leadership circles dare to challenge anything in the movement, they are anathema and shunned altogether.
Although there were many good things about PDI/SGM and I have many fond memories, unfortunately the harm I suffered far outweighs the good. I was so shipwrecked after leaving, I still have a very difficult time walking into a church or trusting anyone who calls him/herself a Christian.
I may one day throw all caution to the wind and list the specific atrocities I witnessed and experienced firsthand while in this movement, but I just can’t go there yet. It’s amazing that even after being out of there for years, I’m still afraid that I’ll get some phone call or email from someone in leadership if I blow the whistle on them. (It wouldn’t be the first inquisition since I left.) I’ve worked really hard to put that horrible season of my life out of my mind; I just don’t want to jeopardize the healing I have experienced by reopening that wound.
But thank you so much for having the courage to speak out! I’m surprised by now the Internet isn’t rife with websites speaking out against this very dangerous cult-like ministry.
Kris says: After that introductory comment, “SGM Casualty” returned and added the following…
After witnessing the courage of others who have posted heart-wrenching accounts of abuses suffered while in SGM, I too have decided to go for broke. If my experience could possibly prevent someone else from suffering what I have in SGM’s wake, it would be worth it.
I too experienced horrific abuse growing up. I grew up in the foster care system and was abused in every way. If you’ve ever read the book “A Child Called It,” you could basically take his past down a notch, and that was my life. It was a daily hell living with a foster mother who was the cruelest person I’ve ever met in my life. My punishments from her included things like having my head held in a toilet, being locked in a closet for hours, and being beaten to the point of nearly passing out on any whim (just to give you the idea that even as far as garden-variety abuse goes, mine was extreme). And my foster father was sexually abusive.
When I came to what was then PDI, they were just getting into the whole kafuffle over Christian counseling. Basically we were told there was no credence in rehashing the past b/c God was the God of the present. We would go to Celebrations (their annual mecca-life conference), and there would be times of ministry for all kinds of things … whatever CJ felt God was leading him to call out: twins, sisters, balding men, people who grew up Catholic, even people whose birthdays were in May (to name just a few). But never once was there a ministry time for anyone who suffered abuse. Not once. So if you were balding, you would get the most amazing prophetic song from Bob Kauflin that plumbed the depths of God’s heart for the genuine struggle you would be facing. But if you were afraid to fall asleep every night for fear that you might either be dragged out of bed and beaten for some crime that was discovered or caressed by cold hands in places a girl should never be touched, well, you were on your own.
In the 12 years I was in the ministry, I never once asked for help in dealing with my past. I was so afraid I’d be judged as being self-pitying or not fully embracing the sovereignty of God. But then this one night I was watching a movie where they showed a man molesting his daughter. It was heinous and unbelievably irresponsible to show – even by Hollywood’s standards. It was so shocking to me, and I couldn’t get to the controller in time to fast forward it. I thought I was fine, but then over the next couple days, I was battling this unbelievable anger that I couldn’t get on top of. I wouldn’t even acknowledge that it could be connected to my past or that scene. I just kept saying to myself (as I had been taught), “I’m not even going to give this air time.”
But after getting into a shouting match with a stranger in a parking lot two days later, which is totally unlike me (she started it, btw), I made the tragic mistake of reaching out to one of my pastors’ wives. I’ll spare you the details, but it was not good. So I called a previous pastor who had been like a spiritual father to me in our previous SGM church, and he told me something that chilled me to the bone. I remember it word for word because it played over and over in my mind for a long time. He said, “[My name], isn’t it such a comfort to know that whatever happened to you (and he knew details of my past b/c I had shared some of them w/ his wife … a regret I will take to my grave) was WAS SOVEREIGNLY ORDAINED BY GOD AND WAS STILL BETTER THAN YOU DESERVED?”
I was shocked, horrified, outraged, you name it. For the first time in my life, I challenged his sick doctrine vehemently, although I didn’t attack him personally. I told him that when another pastor’s son experienced a traumatic injury at a young age, his parents didn’t tell him – when he was too afraid to spend the night at anyone’s house for years afterwards – to just get over it. His parents worked with him patiently and sought out help for their son. Another pastor’s daughter was deathly afraid of any kind of fire b/c she witnessed a stove fire that wasn’t even ever out of control at a young age. Her mother spoke of her gripping fear with compassion – not a cavalier attitude that her experience was too long ago to have any valid hold on her. I told him that if someone experiences something horrible while in SGM, they are afforded untold hours of counseling and the church’s utmost of support. I watched it happen on many occasions as tragedy would befall different families. But if you come into SGM broken in any way from past abuse, you’re on your own.
When I got off the phone with this pastor I once trusted with abandon, I threw the phone across the room and told God, “If I weren’t so afraid of hell, I’d turn my back on you!” And sobbed for hours. I can’t tell you how much it took to overcome the juggernaut of those words. But it wasn’t until finally opening up to a very wise and godly woman (after leaving SGM, of course) that I was able to see the depth of distortion to the Father’s heart of God. The Bible says it would be better for a man to have a millstone hung around his neck and cast into the depths of the sea than to make a child stumble. That’s extreme. Yet this man, who spoke so cavalierly of my abuse, has a daughter he adores. There’s no way he could be so cold and calculating in his theology if his daughter were ever molested by another man or beaten mercilessly by someone. So how dare he misrepresent my heavenly Father – and the only true father I’ve ever known – by saying being treated so horribly my entire childhood was still better than I deserved.
Rewind the years back to my earlier experiences with SGM … A few years into being at the church I was also told by a pastor’s wife that she thought I was anorexic. I’m naturally thin with a high metabolism and dropped in my weight while I was nursing. I had very big babies and had a hard time keeping up with the caloric demands of nursing; I’ll give her that. So she had questioned me from time to time about my eating, but I assured her each time that I was NOT anorexic. Then one day she called me and said she wanted to talk to me that day. I was very intimidated by this woman because 1) her husband was on the apostolic team and 2) she lived next door.
We set up a time, and I could tell by her voice I was “in trouble” but had no idea for what. I was a nervous wreck by the time she got there. When she came in, she told me to follow her and walked over to my kitchen table where she set down (literally) a pile of articles. I was scared out of my mind but had no idea why I should be. She told me that she had just found out another woman in the church, who she had compared me to on several occasions b/c we were both into healthy food and fitness (runners), had just been hospitalized for anorexia. And the pile on my table was all resources and articles about eating disorders she had collected.
She also told me that she had tried to penetrate my arrogance on numerous occasions but that I failed to recognize the seriousness of this situation, so she wasn’t going to wait any longer. She said that if she waited for me to recognize my “deeply rooted sin,” I could be dead, and she wasn’t going to sit by and let that happen. And how could I defend myself since one article said that anorexics are nearly impossible to help b/c of their stubborn resistance, so oftentimes friends and families just have to force their hand by admitting them to treatment centers and stuff like that. Keep in mind that at the time of this stinging rebuke I was still in my 20s, 5′5″ and 114 pounds when she had me “weigh in” after our “talk” – although I did very little talking. The woman in the hospital who was diagnosed as anorexic, on the other hand, was under 100 pounds.
I was so floored and afraid. Although I had been corrected by this woman many times and really respected her, I had never seen her this intense. She told me that she wasn’t the only one who “saw this” and that it could become an issue of church discipline if I didn’t submit to the leadership’s direction on this. Again, I won’t bore you with all of the details, but I spent years (yes, that’s right years) in accountability with different members of leadership on this issue. I was given a weight that I was required to maintain (where’s that in the Bible?); I was restricted from exercise for months at a time; I was required to keep eating journals where I had to write down everything I ate; I was told to “widen the circle” and let others know about this area of weakness so they could watch and evaluate my eating at sundry church functions; etc.
I was so confused about this whole issue b/c I did believe that there could be areas of sin in our lives that we are genuinely blind to. And I was very recalcitrant at times to submitting to the level of scrutiny over my eating and my weight. I absolutely hated having to record everything I ate, and I really did come to hate eating. The prevailing argument from one woman was that if there wasn’t an issue, I wouldn’t have a problem submitting to these reasonable requirements. But I did love the women who were leading the brigade and knew they loved me; that I never questioned. I was also very afraid of the potential of giving into pride. I was afraid that if I didn’t submit to the discipline they were doling out, God would resist me b/c of my pride and discipline me with some kind of health crisis (a threat they had sternly warned me about). I had also been told of numerous accounts of sincere Christians being led astray b/c of their own arrogance and lack of teachability or willingness to look at their sin. (Larry T was at the top of the list.)
So after a while, I came to trust these women and actually believed I had a problem with eating, even though my weight never once dropped down below what every credible health institute deemed an acceptable range for my height and age. And there was a time – when after not being allowed to exercise for more than 6 months and had weighed only 6 pounds less than I did the day I delivered my last child – that I really did start to give into deception and even “purged” with natural laxatives to try to trim off some of the excess weight. Of course, my conscience would later be smitten and I would confess my sin, respond to the correction that would follow, and submit to heightened restrictions and extended periods of consequences. But I never did any of those things before the years of emphasis by church leadership on my weight.
In my case, as sincere as these leaders’ hearts may have been, I think it was evidence of the potential for abuse in their strict positions on the doctrine of sin and the supreme importance of accountability. Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t thrown out the baby with the bath water. I’ve seen the dangers of an accountability-free Christianity in many a church. But the ease with which they handed out what was considered biblical discipline in a very gray area did a lot of damage. For me, I was willing to submit to what seemed like harsh and unreasonable discipline at times because the church was like the only family I had ever known. But that loyalty and trust came at a very high price, which brings me to my next experience … and the proverbial last straw.
I found out from my husband, in a meeting with the pastor and his wife who were like spiritual parents to me, that he had been unfaithful to me. In that same meeting we were told that we would step down from care group leadership. Needless to say, I was devastated but responded with grace and dignity in that meeting, as every good Christian wife was expected to. I didn’t care about stepping down from care group leadership and, in fact, very much agreed with that and saw it as a no brainer. What came as a shock was I was (literally) assigned two women I was allowed to talk to about what I was going through. And one was a single woman who had never been married but was a church secretary and could report to this pastor how I was doing. The other was my pastor’s wife (the one who was like the spiritual mother, not the apostle’s wife who had at one time lived next door). As much as I adored his wife, everyone knew following up with people was not her forte. She was a busy home school mom with four kids (the SGM way) and was constantly overwhelmed with the never-ending demands of ministry. I could count on one hand the number of times she ever called me in our 9-year relationship, and this crisis was no exception.
Also, even though this pastor and wife had met with us regularly for years (usually twice a month for discipleship), and our families shared so many really fond memories together, we never met with them as couples again. And one time, when I was presumptuous enough to ask my friend why they had stopped meeting with us and had told her I felt that we had been abandoned as soon as we were deemed no longer “useful” to the church, she told me that there were biblical grounds for pouring their energies into people they were “co-laboring with” and would not apologize for doing that. I could hardly believe my ears. So when we had the largest care group in the church and God was moving powerfully through us, we were considered co-laborers and worthy of their time. But when we were bleeding out on the sidelines (at the risk of sounding dramatic), we were no longer their responsibility.
We eventually decided to leave the church and move out of the state altogether after my husband had lost so many jobs, he could no longer get a job in his field in that city. Before leaving, we asked to meet with this couple to say good bye. We had decided not to bring up any of the many issues we had with the church and the way his discipline was handled. I just so desperately wanted to keep some shred of the relationship alive. And I still loved this woman too much (and feared her too much) to confront her. But a few minutes into our meal, the pastor said that they had called the meeting (even though they didn’t initiate the meeting at all) to bring us some very serious concerns they had with us and told us that they were going to share these concerns with one of the pastors of the SGM they presumed we would be attending in our new city of residence.
He shared a few things with my husband that weren’t off target at all, and he was surprisingly quite gracious. But then his wife turned her attention to me. She unleashed the most intense series of rebukes she had ever given me. Just as I had with the other pastor’s wife who had once lived next door, I had rolled with many of her punches, but they were always seasoned with grace. However, this rebuke session was laced with anger and disappointment. The most shocking thing she shared with me was her disappointment that she didn’t feel I totally embraced “our” season of discipline. When I asked her what I was being disciplined for, she said that when a husband goes through church discipline, his wife is naturally included in that. And she went on to tell me all the ways she thought I stood aloof to the discipline process.
But how is it that a husband can cheat on his wife, and the wife is also subject to the discipline process? I was baffled and very hurt. And – as strange as this may seem – I argued with her for the first time in our relationship. I never raised my voice or treated her with any disrespect, but I did recount all of the things that I was asked to do and did. One of these was to go to the care group we had been assigned to without my husband (b/c he was working nights at the time), even though the care group leader had told us he didn’t feel comfortable with us being in his care group! I had appealed to our pastor to let me go to a different care group, but the appeal was denied. I look back on that now and see it as beyond ridiculous that grown adults have to ask pastors to be allowed to switch care groups. That’s pretty sick.
Oh, and this care group leader didn’t want us to leave his care group b/c he didn’t like us; his reason was that he had taken over our care group and told us he was afraid we could lead the people’s heart away from him like Absalom did to David. (No exaggeration – God is my witness.) But, in obedience to my pastor, I continued to go by myself, knowing that I was seen as a threat b/c our care group was very close and loyal to us. I also listed all of the other ridiculous things I was required to do, which I had done. So when I challenged her to give me specific examples of how I had resisted the discipline process in any way, she conceded that I had “gone through the motion” of obedience in my actions but that she did not feel my heart was in it. How nebulous can you get?
When we left that church, we were just shy of shipwrecked. We were exhausted, disillusioned, and broken. We did try the SGM church in our new city (don’t ask me why), but we were too far gone. Actually, one pastor and his wife took us on as a couple and really seemed to have faith in seeing us through the post-op process. They had also been through a grueling and highly public discipline process and admitted that SGM’s discipline processes tended to lack grace. They even included us in a discipleship group they had just started.
But she was the one I reached out to after seeing that movie, and she was freaked. Although she was gracious when she talked to me at first, they took a big step back from us in short order. I also found out that the pastor at this new church had called my old pastor, and my old pastor had freely shared intimate details of my past. I knew this had happened by their freak-out response, but I couldn’t prove it. So I emailed my previous pastor (spiritual father), asking him why he violated my privacy by sharing my past with this other pastor. (It was a high-risk operation, but he had no way of knowing I didn’t know for certain he had done that.) He emailed me back an explanation that this new pastor cared about me and that he had only asked about my past to help me … So he felt he did the right thing.
But this new pastor’s intention was hardly one of wanting to help me. Instead, we were uninvited from their group the following group, and his wife wrote me an email asking me not to contact her anymore. She said it was b/c she was really busy. But she hardly even acknowledged me at church. It was so unbelievably painful, and I was so mad at myself for ever bringing up my past or trusting any leadership in SGM. We left the church within a matter of weeks even more devastated than we had come 6 months before.
When we found a new church that was like a spiritual ER for us, I got help. But my husband was too disillusioned and angry to talk to anyone. He was actually much angrier about how I had been shunned for something I had no control over (my horrific past) than their incredibly harsh discipline process that was nearly void of grace and leaned much more Puritanical. Sadly, in the end, he decided cast the whole thing aside and turned to another woman for comfort and camaraderie. He’s now leading a completely immoral lifestyle and has left me a single mother with four kids. I barely recognize him when I see the depths of his callous disregard for anything that pertains to God. He’s also an alcoholic drowning his anger and disillusionment instead of getting the help he needs.
I’m sorry. I know this was really long. But if anyone is reading this who has reservations about some of the more insidious undertows of SGM’s dogmatic doctrines and methodologies, I would encourage you NOT to succumb to the notion that questioning things is, in and of itself, manifest proof of an arrogant and unteachable spirit. In looking back, there were so many things that gave me pause, but I had learned to doubt myself at every turn and put my trust in the ability of God to speak and lead through others to the neglect of my own discernment and ability to hear from God … a claim that, especially for a woman to assert, is nearly tantamount to heresy.
So I wasn’t being dramatic when I chose the moniker “SGM Casualty.” I’m also not hiding behind a cloak of anonymity, as Jesse seems to be asserting (in a general sense, not necessarily directed at anyone in particular). Anyone involved in any of the SGM churches I was a part of (to wit, Virginia Beach, Denver, and Orlando) would be able to identify me in a heartbeat and also identify the people I’m referring to … although my motive was, in no way, to expose specific people.
However, at the same time, I do search engine optimization for a living and realize the dangers of attaching your name to any kind of public site. So the last thing I want is for my name to come up in this sort of context if one of my clients were to do a search of my name. Also, no one in my professional life has any clue that I was once so foolish as to subject myself to this kind of twisted Christianity and cultish practices, and I intend to keep it that way.
Kris’ summation of “Cathy’s” story:
Awhile back, a reader using her full first and last name (which I’ve now edited to just “Cathy”) posted the following:
I and my family worshiped for about four months at a church seeking SGM affiliation. We had already come into conflict with four different ministers over the course of twenty years who, though they were ministers in the OPC, PCA and CRC, suffered from the kingly delusion you describe in this post as characterizing SGM ministers. On “Adoption Sunday” we were greeted in the parking lot by two bouncers, one of them the associate pastor, who informed us that we were not welcome at [Church Name], for they had identified us as blots on their love feast. We tried to contact the pastor, with whom we had been friends prior to ever attending the church, but discovered that our phone number had been blocked by his phone service. The catalyst of this situation appears to have been a facebook post I made two weeks previously asking for discussion concerning whether looking at Christ was really the same as looking at the Cross, which the pastor had intimated in a sermon. My husband had responded to my posts saying, no, Christ is not identical with his cross and giving a Scriptural defense for thinking that Christ can no longer be found on the cross, just as he can no longer be found in the grave. Whatever you think of this discussion, we were shocked to be turned away at the church door. We knew immediately we were dealing with a cult.
Having come across this discussion on this blog, I thank God for His protection. The scourge of authoritarian, dogmatic and bigoted pastors is hitting the church hard.
Kris speaking again: I will admit that when I read this comment, my first thought was that it sounded too outrageous to be true. I mean, yes – throughout the nearly three years that I’ve been moderating this site, I’ve heard far more about Sovereign Grace Ministries’ “dark side” than ANYONE would ever want to know. I’ve heard so many stories of manipulation, control, and pastoral abuses of authority that it’s difficult, sometimes, for me to remember which situation was which.
But those stories have all followed a very similar pattern: usually, ex-SGMers will have been heartily welcomed (“love-bombed”) into their SGM churches, often going on to spend years (or decades) serving as faithful members, only to at some point have reason to question their pastors’ unchecked authority. Then – and only then – will things begin to go downhill. Then – and only then – will they experience the bitter fruit of an authoritarian ministry, fruit like finding out they’re no longer embraced by the churchfolk they were instructed to regard as “closer than family.”
There are exceptions, of course, to the typical pattern of a bad SGM experience. But the exceptions – the bad SGM experiences that do NOT center around heavy-handed unchecked pastoral authority – usually involve people who are still in the investigation stages, people who have attended their SGM churches for awhile but have not yet become members. The exceptions will typically focus on oddities within SGM’s culture, oddities that newcomers to SGM eventually find off-putting enough to make them leave SGM before SGM can kick them out.
In other words, I’d never before heard of visitors or non-members being given the cold shoulder. Actually, I’d never before heard of anyone who had been officially and obviously physically barred from attending a Sovereign Grace Ministries church.
Had an SGM church stooped to a new low, I wondered?
I asked “Cathy” to provide additional details for us.
For whatever reason, she did not.
At that point, “Cathy’s” situation sort of slipped my mind. What a lot of people might not understand is that I’ve never had to go hunting for interactions with SGM’s bruised and battered victims. Maybe I should have been more curious about the veracity of “Cathy’s” story, but the reality is that I typically have more people contacting me than I can sometimes even interact with effectively.
So I kind of forgot about “Cathy.” But another reader did not. This reader – we’ll call him Tim – recently wrote and shared the following:
That whole Cathy [Last Name] thing was bugging me. I kept wondering if her story was true at all. That church’s site has a contact page, so I just went on there, referenced your blog — since this Cathy person is obviously not trying to hide and since I’m sure they read anyway — and asked about the scenario, saying that “I sure hoped it wasn’t true.” I really did. I wanted to see if anyone would even respond.
Well, the pastor wrote me back and here’s what he said:
It does not surprise me to see this post on the blog. As always, there are always two sides to every story. We have never had to do this before but after problems started to arise with this family, and after talking to several other churches in the area that they had attended, it was determined that these people (particularly Cathy) were “wolves” in our church.
As I have stated, we have never done anything like this before with any other family and we regretted having to do this.
I write this just so you know.
I ["Tim" still speaking] think it’s interesting that he says there are two sides to every story when, actually, their two sides seem to line up pretty well. The verbiage is different, but the attitude seems the same. Cathy said they were told they were “blots on their love feast” and he said they were “wolves.” To me that says, “We were told we were garbage” and the pastor agreed.
I mean, am I reading it all wrong??
I wasn’t sure what to tell Tim. So I suggested that Tim write back to the pastor and ask for clarification. Here is Tim’s report:
Well, [Pastor's Name] wrote back immediately.
Here’s his response in its entirety:
We were their 4th or 5th church in several years (from talking to other pastors), and every other church that they went to, it ended badly. One of those churches was the church of a good friend of mine in the PCA. They put him through 2 months of sleepless nights. When the same patterns started repeating themselves in our church we simply asked them not to attend until they had reconciled with the other churches. We also told them that if they would like to talk, we could set up a meeting. Instead, they went on the attack. So, in other words, we didn’t “ban” them, we simply asked them to go back and make things right with these other churches before they attended our church.
Also, this had nothing to do with SGM. We tried to contact them prior to this particular Sunday (adoption) but they would not answer our calls. We run our church as an independent leadership. We were taking our job seriously, according to scripture, to protect our own church body from a family that was and is divisive. I am still grieved that it had to come to this and am hopeful that someday I can be friends with them again. As I have stated, in 17 years of ministry, this is the first time that we have ever had to do this with a family.
Here is a sermon by Mark Driscoll that might be helpful. It is a little edgy but gives a good perspective of ministry:
So [Kris here again], I think I owe “Cathy” an apology for ever questioning her. As “Tim” points out, “Cathy’s” story and the pastor’s story line up pretty perfectly.
And you know, I think the pastor’s responses raise at least as many questions as they answer. First of all, was “Cathy’s” posting on Facebook the same action that this pastor believes was exhibiting “the same pattern of behavior” as she and her husband had engaged in at those other churches? Secondly, it sounds like “Cathy” and her husband had attempted rather desperately to get in touch with the pastor on the Sunday morning they were actually prevented from entering the church. He never addresses why (or disputes that) he – their supposed longtime friend – did not respond to their calls. Wouldn’t there have been a much kinder and gentler way of dealing with them on that Sunday morning? Rather than having other church members function as bouncers, wasn’t there some other course of action that would perhaps have diffused the situation?
Thirdly, I’m curious as to what, exactly, this pastor thought “Cathy” and her husband would be able to do during a single Sunday meeting that would have been so dangerous to the rest of the church community.
Fourthly, this pastor may believe that this situation “had nothing to do with SGM.” But that makes absolutely no sense, considering that as an adopted congregation, this pastor and his church now absolutely do represent SGM. We know the adoption process is long and arduous. This pastor and his church would never have made the cut if it hadn’t been understood by all parties concerned that they would be good representatives of the SGM brand. And if this pastor really believes that he still operates his congregation “independently,” he might want to educate himself about the various situations where de-giftings have occurred.
Finally, now that he definitely knows that “Cathy” has shared her story online, I’m wondering what he has done to pursue reconciliation with her and her family. He claims he wishes that he could be friends with them again. If such a thing is true, then I’m sure he has attempted to reach out to them to clear up the misunderstandings about “Cathy’s” Facebook posting and how that could not possibly have been enough to get her and her husband barred from attending. I’m sure he has carefully explained to “Cathy” and her husband just which of their behaviors constituted “going on the attack,” and what they did that was so horrific that it would cause him to label them as “wolves” and have no apparent qualms about sharing that loaded and judgmental label with any random person who asks him about the situation.
Anyway, people, there you have it. It’s true: there is a Sovereign Grace church out there that has bouncers. (Or at least, has guys who “serve” their SGM church in the capacity so that they can perform the duties of bouncers, preventing undesirable “wolves” from entering meetings.)
Even more creepy, it’s apparently OK for SGM pastors to go around gossiping with other pastors in the community about the members of their flocks.
All in the name of protecting you, their helpless and stupid sheep, of course.
I prayed to receive Christ when I was 11 years old, back in 1971. (Do the math….now you know how old I am. ) This is only to say, “I wasn’t born again yesterday.”
I was initially raised (in the faith) in a Lutheran church in Holt Michigan. When I was in the High school age youth group in that church, there was a move of the Holy Spirit and many of us were ………. Dare I say it? Baptized in the Holy Spirit. This was kept a secret among those of us newly Spirit filled youth as it was being preached from our pulpit that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was “Of the devil.” We knew better.
This is also to say, I was a Reformed, yet Charismatic long before PDI existed. I also learned early on how to do the work of a Berean, and beware of “church politics.” So at an early point in my life I set my path to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,” and let all other things follow.
Now, at that time, there was a Charismatic Church (Shiloh Fellowship) across town that had a reputation. These people practiced Discipleship. Yes, the dreaded Shepherding Movement. Little did I know, God had plans for me.
The Holy Spirit then told me He wanted me to leave that Lutheran Church, and join New Covenant Christian Church, formerly known as …….. Shiloh Fellowship. (See? Even in the 70′s, churches that went “bad” changed their names too.) There is nothing new under the sun. I prayed long and hard over that. Once convinced it was God, I joined New Covenant. Now, they had begun to amend some of their controlling practices, and were moving away from the practice of the Shepherding Movement, but they still had a long way to go. What I had learned while there was how “Discipleship” had been implemented, and how it damaged people’s lives. (This was useful later in PDI/SGM.)
My (future) wife moved to the northern Virginia area and joined a newly planted church, New Covenant Christian Church (NCCC) of Reston Virginia. This church did not resemble the controlling ways of its namesake. I quickly realized that I could not live without her, and moved down and married her. Her most important qualities are that she is uncompromising in her devotion to God, and she will not take any “junk” from anybody, especially me. (And I know, as the doctrine of indwelling sin can verify, I was, and sill am, full of junk.)
These were years of little spiritual growth for me, and I was growing increasingly frustrated with that; I wanted more. At my wife’s repeated requests, I finally agreed to visit a church that was greatly touted by friends as just the church we needed to attend. So on a Sunday in January, 1995, we checked out a PDI church, where the pastor was giving his “State of the Church Address”. (A recap of where they had come from, and where they were going.) They were Reformed, yet charismatic! “THAT’S IT!” I said.
We had found our home!
(And the PDI/SGM journey began.)
So we made the “jump” to that PDI church and were in the new members class, and thoroughly enjoying our new church home when we met this associate pastor (Pastor X) who was kinda goofy and quite animated.
I had been working 2nd shift for several years; our Care Group (CG) leader began pressing me to attend CG or change jobs so I could attend. He tried to inform me that it was a requirement that CG be attended by all members, and that my growth depended on it. He even told me at one point that I should quit my job in order to attend CG. I laughed, and said that when God provides me to attend, I’ll attend. He didn’t like that. (Been there, done that, saw the Discipleship tee-shirt, and burned it.)
At one time a little later, my wife and I were having some difficulties in our marriage, nothing terrible, but we needed some help in resolving some communication and respect issues. We met with Pastor X and he was helpful in guiding us to look at our own sin in the process of forgiving each other, which has been helpful in our marriage ever since. That was very good counseling that I still recommend to fellow believers to this day: “Humility asks questions, pride makes statements.” Pastor X was helpful to our marriage once.
Around June of 1997, one day God awoke me from sleep to say (something to the affect) “I am having Pastor X plant a church out west, would you be willing to go?” or “Would you be willing to support?”
I said Yes LORD. And went back to sleep.
This exact exchange happened again the next day.
I chalked it up to perhaps too much pizza before I went to bed, and did not think of it again, until……………six months later, January 1998. Apostle Y was making the announcement that he had approached Pastor X about 6 months back and asked him to plant a church in [City Name] area.
I picked my jaw up off the floor and told my wife of my exchanges with God…..6 months prior.
We agreed that we HAD to look into this and see what God would do.
And so, a new adventure with God began. We were by ALL SGM (then PDI) standards not qualified to be on the church plant team. We were not financially wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, and Pastor X had a marriage problem judgment against us. We still decided to Seek First the Kingdom, (Seek God) according to Mt 6:33, We quoted this scripture to each other regularly, and watched to see if God wanted us to go, and to see if He would provide. It would take several pages to go over just how miraculously God did change our situation and moved heaven and earth to get us on the church plant team, and out to the [City Name] area.
We were the last family to move out to plant [Church Name].
It was January 23rd 2000, around noon I was driving our moving truck with our belongings inside and was almost to the [State] border on the Interstate when the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “Satan is crouching in the corner of this church (you are going to) and he wants to destroy it. Be on guard.”
I thought “Whoa! What does THAT mean?”
God had done such a miraculous job in getting us to this point, He had a reason, and He did not say to “prevent” it, He said, “Be on guard.” He also waited until there was no turning back to tell me this.
I pondered this in my heart, and only told my wife, until about 5 months later, when she voiced a concern to me about an attack on the church she perceived.
I approached Pastor X, and relayed that word from the Holy Spirit, and he said something that gave me chills, and still does to this day. He said “You have nothing to worry about. Our Doctrine is too sound.”
From that day on, I committed to serve God in whatever capacity He wanted, and remain on guard as He commanded.
Over time, I served as the Sound Ministry Leader, and built a friendship with the Worship leader, and thought he had become my best friend, until……………
(By the way, our story has to be abbreviated or it would turn into a book, because of the convoluted manner in which it was handled by Pastor X and Apostle Y.)
The CG grew, and in March 2003, an idea was exchanged to “temporarily” reduce the size by asking three couples (us and two others) to consider transferring to another care group. The three couples were chosen because of their close personal ties with each other. It was thought by leadership to be a “no brainer.” The problems began when each family was approached separately, and slightly different versions of the story (request) was given with instructions for us (the three couples) to meet and discuss our decision but to please hurry because our “going away party” was being planned. That looked a little presumptive to us, but when we found different versions of the request to contradict them, many more questions arose. We awaited a meeting with the care group leader to get clarification on what was looking like a controlling lack of grace coming from leadership. (Oh by the way, a little later on Pastor X told us three couples that we were guilty of Gossip because we (as instructed) talked amongst each other.)
May 4 2003, we met with CG leader & his wife (CG leaders). There were several exchanges that lead up to this meeting between some of the other couples and the CG leaders. These exchanges caused some friction between all couples and the CG leaders so that the meeting did not go as well as expected from the CG leaders perspective. Our part in this was that because of our awareness of the offenses between the CG leaders and the other couples, we were not expecting true objectivity on the part of the CG leaders. At one point in this meeting my wife asked if he had prayed about this request and he replied sarcastically that he hadn’t fasted over it. The CG leader stated that they (he and his wife) were asked to leave CG’s on many occasions when they didn’t want to. Although the meeting was at times a little “prickly” by the end of the meeting we wanted to be “right” with the CG leader and asked if we were “OK?” A few weeks later, my wife had a “questionable” exchange with CG leaders wife and afterward asked if “we were ok?” CG leaders wife said yes, we are ok, no offences.
After the meeting the CG leaders wife made a report to Pastor X on this meeting. She had an attitude towards one of the other women. She colored the report that one of the women had ‘corrected’ her husband. Pastor X had (apparently) an attitude towards my wife. We didn’t know how this underlying information factored in until months later, but in June it started to show itself. One thing Pastor X had said in email to all 3 couples was that WE need to ask the CG leader if there was something we needed to know or could learn from, or possibly even need to confess, in our interaction with him and his wife, after their meeting with us. But since we were at that meeting, and the CG leader and his wife were so “in the tank” in our opinion about moving people around for some whim or convenience, we essentially blew this off because my wife had already asked and confirmed that we were “OK”. Besides, we had been in Ken Sande’s book PEACEMAKER and it was clear that if THEY had an offense from something someone said or did, weren’t THEY supposed to approach the offending party? Why was Pastor X repeating that “we” need to go to “them” for some confession or smoothing over of something, that we knew nothing about?
Also in that meeting, at one point we were asking the CG leader some questions concerning church government. He said that those questions were best asked of Pastor X. He then added: “good luck getting a meeting with him, he is so busy that he doesn’t even return my phone calls.”
A few weeks later, I approached Pastor X after a Sunday meeting and asked him if he was being spread too thin, because I observed that he looked and acted like he had a lot on his plate. Because I was Sound Ministry leader, I asked if there was anything I could take off his plate so that he could be better served. He asked where I got that idea. I said that it was just observations and because of a comment from one of the CG leaders that he was very busy. Pastor X became slightly agitated and said that my observations were wrong and that I might consider if I am suspicious of Pastor X. I then asked if he knew that his CG leaders though this way about him. I was told to go to that CG leader to take it up with him, not Pastor X. He then went on to say that he was in contact with Apostle Y about that very topic, and that steps were being taken to re-structure the workload in the church. I told him that I was greatly relieved to hear that. I then went back to the CG leader and it was settled very quickly. There was no other conversation, and I still did not know that there was concerns that CG leaders had to talk with us about.
June (18th) At a birthday party, Pastor X approached my wife (ALONE) and began stating to her that she was drawing conclusions without asking questions about how busy he is. And if she has a question to ask the persons involved. To not do that is sin. He went on to say she was wrong for being anxious about his schedule and how busy he is. (blah blah blah.) My wife could hardly get a word in edgewise, and had to interrupt. But it was at about that point that she was looking around for me to come join/rescue her. We were both unprepared for Pastor X’s anger that he was venting towards my wife. I countered that she was not anxious, and that it was I who had simply asked him about his pace or how busy he was, so that I could serve him. After re-stating that my wife was not anxious, I started talking about how I wanted to know so that I could serve him. My wife then brought up that perhaps his men were not representing him accurately, and that they project that he is way too busy (because she new about the previous exchange with the CG leader.). Pastor X asked for specific comments and she declined at that moment because of Pastor X’s tone. So without specifics he dismissed it as my wife’s conclusions again, and that perhaps that was not what was actually said. He then wanted to know the connotation for her calling the leadership his “team” or “his guys” and was she using that in a derogatory way. We were perplexed by that, because Pastor X uses those words himself, and they do, in fact serve him by representing him in various situations, and that was simply what she meant: They are his representatives. He kept saying yes, they are, but what did she mean by that? (By the way, Prior to giving birth to our first child, my wife was a personal secretary to the president of a well-known bank on capital hill in Washington, D.C. She does know something about how people who serve a leader have a continuing task of representing that leader at all times.)
A little later that summer, I was approached by the worship leader and told that I should email at least two other men in the church who are not close friends, and tell them my deepest sins, and ask them to hold me accountable to “kill” those sins. He went on to say that I would not rise to the next level of spirituality until I did this.
I got a little red in the face and shook my finger in his face and told him that the only times I ever heard of “levels of spirituality” was in CULTS! . I would much rather spend my energy “seeking first the kingdom of God, and letting all other things follow”. I came on a little strong, but I take bad theological garbage like that very seriously.
(Later, in our “Problems with Pastor X”, I discovered that Pastor X had sent this guy to deliver that exact message to me, and you can bet that Pastor X got a full report on my reply.)
(And the fireworks began.)
Pastor X began preaching a series of sermons about “The Evil of Mr. Tongue.”
This series seamed to be obsessed with reinforcing the standard teaching about “Gossip & Slander” In one sermon Pastor X said, and I quote “There is gossip & slander going on in this church, and I intend to kill it.” My wife and I were fairly alarmed by the force of that statement. It’s on tape; check it out if you don’t believe me.
In another sermon in this series, Pastor X indicated that there were (I don’t recall if he mentioned specifically three couples) some couples who were in conflict with their CG leader, and said “if anybody hears that they were asked to leave the CG, it’s a lie.” My mouth dropped open, and I thought “Pastor X, we were asked to leave. You are lying, to the whole church! In a sermon called ‘The evils of Mr. Tongue’ no less!”
In another sermon Pastor X stated that some people are accusing Pastor X’s leadership team of being “Yes-Men”. Pastor X went on, “my men are not ‘Yes-Men’, ‘Yes SIR!’ is how they respond to me!” (I am still wondering how that does not confirm they are “yes-men.” And no, we have no idea who Pastor X was referring to. It just makes me laugh out loud when I remember it.) From June to September we observed an increasing anger from Pastor X, such that when I went elk hunting, my wife kept the kids home from church.
It was September 7, 2003 at 12:45PM MDT when the three men (of the afore mentioned three couples) were finally able to meet with Pastor X to find out what his concerns were, because the CG leader certainly did not think that there were any concerns, or at least he did not want to tell us there were. I asked that our wives could be in that meeting and Pastor X said no. When I asked why, Pastor X said that I would understand when we were in the meeting.
The meeting began with Pastor X waggling his finger in my face and going on in a 10-minute tirade about the sinfulness of my wife in how she had corrected a man in leadership. He kept going on and on about this terrible pattern of behavior in her life complete with a promise to take us before the church if I did not “rein in” my wife, when in my distress, I called (quietly) upon God to help me understand what was going on. (It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.) At that moment God answered my prayer with a recollection of some words from one of Pastor X’s recent sermons, “Do not ever bring an accusation against another, without specifics.” I then realized that there were no specifics in his accusations. So I held up my finger (Index finger, no birds here.) and asked him to pause a moment. I then asked if he had any specifics about my wife’s “sin”. Pastor X looked like a deer in the headlights. After a long pause, he said “No. I do not have any specifics.” And then turned to the other three men in the room who were on his leadership team and asked them if they had any specifics. They all looked around to each other shrugging and saying no, they had no specifics. (Oh did I forget to mention this was a meeting of seven men? This is important info for later in the story when I was arguing with Apostle Y about the protections offered in holding to the Matthew 18 model.) I said that I would look into this matter and get back to him as soon as I can.
Pastor X then went on to grill in similar fashion, the other two husbands who were called in with me, and discuss their wives sinfulness. I was in such shock over his accusation about my wife, I do not recall much of what he said to them, except that at the close of the meeting, I reassured Pastor X of my love and respect for him, and looked forward to bringing this issue to a Godly close. Little did I know, that in Pastor X’s eyes, that “Godly close” could only happen with my wife publicly repenting of everything he had accused her of, without specifics. By the way, how does a person ask forgiveness and repent for something that they don’t know they did, or for things framed in vagaries?
I decided that day, that my wife & kids would not return to that church if I were not there with them. We later learned that when Pastor X talked about “repenting” it was a repentance to him (Pastor X).
It seemed that the accusations stemmed from the CG leader’s wife’s notes from the May 4 2003 meeting relating to the March 2003 initial request for us to leave the CG. After repeated requests, I finally got her to let me have a copy of her notes from that meeting so I could address the “questions” about my wife. Those notes clearly showed that the incident of the CG leader being “corrected” was one of a comment made by one of the other wives when she told him that much of the confusion and strife in our meetings were due to his lack of clarity and respect for the people involved, and that he “would be held accountable for his words.” (Ref to Scriptures here.) The CG leaders wife’s notes simply said “one of the women said…” Pastor X chose to apply those words to my wife. Everybody in that meeting knew exactly who said that. (By the way, I still have those notes.)
So, it was now October 12, and I went back to Pastor X to set the record straight that it was not my wife, but another woman who openly admits to it, and that the GC leader and his wife would corroborate that story. I wanted to meet alone in the spirit of Mt 18. Pastor X had called over the Worship leader and the CG leader. I was a little distressed that I could not apply Mt 18 in the context of approaching my brother ALONE on my first attempt to bring his sin to him, I asked if I could speak alone and Pastor X said no. I decided that since the Worship leader and the CG leader had been in the Sept 7 meeting, I’d just proceed. After I tried to set the record straight, Pastor X apologized for surprising me on SEP 7 by not telling me in advance about what he was bringing to me. He then went on to reinforce his SUSPICION of my wife. In a long non-specific listing of how she gossips & slanders the church, I was told that I was guilty of standing by as she “ran on at the mouth.” I asked for specifics, and he said that specifics would cause for a litany of point counterpoint and that would detract from what he wanted to say. He said, “We don’t want to get into specifics of names and dates and words because that just degrades into arguments of ‘he said, she said.’ We want to address a pattern of behavior.” The worship leader went on to say (non specifically) how my wife has a tendency to plant pointed comments that cause people to question authority. Examples were given, and he said “So and so is on the PDG? Why isn’t [Defender] on it?” or (putting his hand on Pastor X’s shoulder) “This guy is running for Senate, and I say to the camera ‘I never said that this guy is an adulterer.’” THAT is their definition of Gossip & Slander that they say my wife is guilty of, yet without any specific sins to repent for. At this point the Worship leader concluded his accusations by saying, “One day before the Sunday meeting had begun, I was up on the stage and looked across to the back of the room and saw your wife talking to another woman, and my heart was grieved because I just knew she was gossiping and slandering someone.”
Pastor X then went on to say that someone had come to him to say that one of the women in our CG in question had said to a woman outside the care group that we were asked to leave the care group. That made him a “very unhappy pastor”. He is convinced that it is my wife, and when he confirms it, “that woman will repent!” He repeated that he didn’t know who it was but is sure that it is my wife. He said that he plans to talk about this in his message next week without mentioning my wife’s name. Just to let me know.
Pastor X then said that in the spirit of Titus 3:10….((NAS) Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, “By Titus, I am supposed to warn you twice and then that’s it.
Consider this meeting as my first warning. If [your wife] says anything more after today, that’s it.” said Pastor X. “She will repent.”
When I went home, I decided that [Church Name] was no longer a safe place for my wife and kids at all, so I chose to never take them back unless there was correction brought to the situation. Meanwhile, I asked God to show me whether this problem was local (Pastor X) or systemic (SGM). It would take 5 months of meetings and staying engaged in the “Process” before I would get that answer.
Folks, I’m not making this stuff up! Pastor X referenced this exact quote, that the worship leader’s heart was grieved because he “just knew she was gossiping and slandering someone,” several times over the following months’ meetings, including the final meeting we had with Apostle Y.
I have a box of documents, notes, and tape recorded conversations from this several months of conflict. Actually, much of the text in this report is copy/pasted into this report from the electronic transcripts of those notes so I can keep the story straight and use the fresh memory of those writings. I was keeping a daily journal for myself, just to keep it all-straight.
And Yes. Tape-recorded conversations, because it was hard believe the things that were said, and I needed to listen again from time to time just to confirm, they really did say that. By the way, those tapes are my personal records, and are nobody’s business but mine. And, for those of you who are wondering, [State] law states that any conversation can be secretly recorded as long as ONE person in the conversation knows it is being recorded. That one person was always ME. (Note to SGM leaders: Be careful when you take on the “sound guy” who has a background in FBI surveillance. Heh heh.)
Some have questioned me as to why I kept those documents. They asked if was I harboring resentment?
I needed those notes over the following year for my sanity. All these meetings were of a similar bizarre nature. For a year after we left that church, I would still awake in a cold sweat and wonder if I had sinned, or misunderstood something or done something wrong. You see, after such an emotional conflict, your memory fades and you naturally begin to second-guess yourself, until you review the “details” and then say “Ah, I remember. It really was that bizarre.” I have not had to look into that box for over three years now, but the memory still stings. Every time I read Psalm 55, I am reminded of what I thought was a friendship with that Worship leader.
14 We who had sweet fellowship together, Walked in the house of God in the throng.
21 His speech was smoother than butter, But his heart was war; His words were softer than oil, Yet they were drawn swords.
“……I just knew she was gossiping and slandering someone.”
Two days later on October 14th, we (the three men being told to get our wives reined in) are asked to a meeting at Pastor X’s home. Now were are several other men on his leadership team also in this meeting, some were in the Sept 7th meeting, and some were not. The Worship Leader was not in this meeting.
The meeting opened at 7 PM, in Pastor X’s basement.
Pastor X opened the meeting and started with a lengthy description of how he would respond if anybody ever spoke to, or about (Pastor X’s wife) in a disrespectful way. I could not figure out what this had to do with the meeting, however, I was rather distressed by Pastor X’s descriptions of how he would respond with violence if any body did to his wife, (pretty much what he had done to our wives.) It was like he was throwing up some kind of cruel challenge to us men who were being made to endure, what he was describing that he would never allow to happen to his wife, as if to say that he was somehow manlier than us. (He did use words to describe exactly that, “manliness.”)
One of the other men on Pastor X’s leadership team noticed I was distressed, and asked what was wrong. I had had enough, so I said that Pastor X was wrong in accusing my wife without specifics, and then not receiving correction when I gave him specifics to indicate my proof of his error. Pastor X went ballistic! He stood up and started yelling and repeating “That’s a lie! I gave you specifics! That’s a lie!” I said “No, it’s the truth, and you said two days ago that you had no specifics and that you had no intention of bringing specifics.” This yelling match went on for about two minutes while Pastor X kept getting louder and louder. I realized that this was not going to end in anything resembling my favor because we were in Pastor X’s “territory”.
So I backed off when Pastor X was so emphatic that he had specifics that he was going to show me “again” after the meeting. I thought, at least I will finally get those specifics I have been asking for.
It was 1:00 AM, when everybody except us three men “on trial” had gone home, before I went into his office to get these “specifics” about my wife’s sin.
What he then showed me was nothing more than a repeat of some vague references to 4 people who had “concerns” about my wife. I asked, what these concerns were, and Pastor X said he did not know what those concerns were, but that if I wanted specifics, I would have to go to these people and ask them.
Everyone had gone home, Pastor X lied again, he had no specifics, and no one was there to verify this lie.
I then told Pastor X a truth I stand by to this day, that in the name of The Doctrine of Indwelling Sin, Pastor X had people seeking first to “Kill their sin“, but the last time I checked scripture, it was Jesus who said with His own mouth, “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,.” I said, “Pastor X, you got it upside down.” He looked at me with that deer in the headlights look, and made no response.
I gave him my assurance that I wanted to find the truth, and would seek to do that. We then parted with warm regards. It was then 1:30 AM and we three men who had carpooled, still had to go to our jobs later that morning.
These types of meetings were the standard with Pastor X, that is, for meetings to go into the wee hours of the mornings with no determined end time, with one exception, when Apostle Y required an end time to one meeting.
[I gotta lighten this up a little.]
Then for the next several weeks I was in this email exchange with Pastor X about bringing Apostle Y into our “conversation” because we were clearly not getting anywhere the way we were going.
The emails went pretty much like this:
Me: Pastor X I want a meeting with Apostle Y.
Pastor X: Why.
Me: Because we need reconciliation.
Pastor X: Why.
Me: Because you are irreconcilable.
Pastor X: Why.
Me: Just call Apostle Y will ya?.
Pastor X: Why.
Me: If you don’t by tomorrow, I will.
Pastor X: Why.
Me: Never mind, I just did.
Shortly after I contacted Apostle Y, I tried as per Apostle Y’s instructions to have private meetings with Pastor X and then the Worship leader, but it degraded into another series of emails similar to the above comical rendition.
Something like this:
Me: Pastor X, I need a meeting to talk about what is true, and what is false about the allegations against my wife.
Pastor X: What do you want to talk about?
Me: I need a meeting to talk about what is true, and what is false about the allegations against my wife
Pastor X: I don’t understand. What do you want to talk about?
Me: I need a meeting to talk about what is true, and what is false about the allegations against my wife
Pastor X: I don’t understand. What do you want to talk about?
[Comedy break over.]
Over the next several months, I had multiple phone conversations with Apostle Y.
In the opening phone call, Apostle Y acted speechless at the situation I was telling him about. But then in later calls, it became obvious that Pastor X was also talking with Apostle Y and Apostle Y was increasingly taking Pastor X’s side in the matter. I was becoming increasingly angry about this bizarre situation and soon the problem became in Apostle Y’s eyes, my anger.
(You bet your A$$ I was angry. My wife was being falsely accused, and I was being told to roll over and let the church have their way with her. What God fearing man would not stand his ground between his bride and bizarre men who have clearly stated they want to do evil things to her? )
I began to call the people on the list Pastor X gave me in his office to find out what these “specifics” were.
Pastor X’s reference to her “concern” was that Person 1 had observed my wife and concluded that she (my wife) was “discontent” about the church. So we called, and all four of us, me & my wife, and she and her husband, were on the phone together. When asked for specifics, she got all upset and stated that she did not want this to go as far as it did. She went on, that in a Pastors Discipleship Group (PDG), Pastor X had warned people to be on the lookout for “discontentment” in the church, as this will kill any church if not dealt with. So this woman, immediately told Pastor X that she thought she saw that happening already, and Pastor X insisted that she tell him whom it was she saw. She was reluctant at first, but finally relented and told Pastor X it was my wife.
We asked what was the incident she saw?
A few months earlier (while Pastor X was already sorting out our GC problems) Pastor X sent out notices that he would be choosing people to be “trained up” to be leaders in the church by forming the PDG, and then in a later notice had sent out the names of people chosen. We were not on that final list. Now, I was at that time the sound ministry leader, and one of the (greatly touted by Pastor X) original church plant families, so this woman was surprised to not see our names on that list. We, on the other hand were relieved to not have to tell Pastor X “no thanks” because I was not giving another night away from my family to the church. To this woman, however, it was a great honor to have been chosen and therefore projected on my wife that she was somehow disappointed to not be chosen, (It couldn’t have been farther from the truth.)
There is the set-up.
Now, to what happened.
My wife has a little hobby business where she breeds our dogs (a few pets we have in our home) and sells the puppies for a little extra grocery money. When we were still in our original PDI church, we bread our Labrador Retrievers (and placed one pup with Benny & Sherrie Phillips.) We were now branching into the new Labradoodle breed, and had bred our Chocolate Lab to a local poodle, but something had gone wrong and she had a serious internal infection. This Lab was our beloved pet and life long companion born in our bedroom back in Virginia, and now on her deathbed. She needed heroic surgery to hopefully save her. The dog went into surgery on a Saturday afternoon, and we would not know if she would survive until Sunday afternoon.
So, it’s now that Sunday, and I am in an after church meeting for a little while, and my wife is sitting in a chair in the lobby, and quietly praying that God would save our beloved pet’s life, when this woman looks across the room and sees her and decides that she is sad because she did not get chosen for PDG, and was therefore now discontent.
For Pete’s Sake! (What’s this looking across the room and assigning motive and sin to people anyhow?)
So, we then relayed to her what you now know, and she was so sorry and full of apologies and wanted to make it right. Her husband stepped up and said that he would contact Pastor X and set the story straight and would call me back when that happened.
Two weeks later I call him back to ask if he had called Pastor X yet. He did and was waiting to see me on Sunday, I had to tell him that we were in conflict with Pastor X and would not be back until it was resolved, so he can just pick up the phone whenever he wanted to speak with us. Anyhow, he told me that he contacted Pastor X and relayed the explanation and said that the “Discontentment” judgment was a mistake. Pastor X then told him something to the effect of “That’s too bad, because if you knew as much about her sin as I do, you would have handled it differently. I will handle it from here.”
That is the complete story on this issue, but Pastor X’s accusation that my wife is discontent came up in about every meeting we had with Pastor X, even when Apostle Y finally came to our “final” meeting.
Person 2 was carrying an offence against my wife and me. Instead of coming to us, she went to Pastor X. This woman is of Mexican descent, so English is a second language to her. She openly admits this as part of her explanation for her confusion. She explained that when she communicates, she hears in English, and then translates to Spanish in her head, and then her responses come to her in Spanish, and she translates them to English to speak. So, she simply misunderstood some things we said, and instead of asking for an explanation, she decided (incorrectly) what we meant, and took offense.
When we met, it was all cleared up, she was embarrassed, we forgave her, we all laughed together, and we went on our merry way.
We had to go and have a second meeting with her a month later after she met with Pastor X, because when she was relating to Pastor X how our meeting went, she was confused about another series of words I spoke, (did not translate correctly again) and was offended again.
It was something like when we met, and when I corrected her to say “no that’s not what I meant, I was saying (this).” She translated that to mean, “You lied, that’s not true.” So I had to help her understand that I was not calling her a liar, but that she merely misunderstood me.
After that second meeting, we resolved that we could not speak with this woman again under any circumstances, as long as she was receiving counseling from Pastor X.
Person 3 was married to a “leader” and Pastor X’s best friend, as Pastor X would say. She was also a social friend to my wife, so she was invited to a birthday dinner at a restaurant with some women in January. My wife made a sarcastic comment about the absence of the Care Group Leader’s wife because of how frequently she was excused from attending care group. (The Care Group Leader’s wife wasn’t invited to the dinner gathering.) Later my wife said she was convicted by the Holy Spirit, in a personal private moment that she had a resentful attitude towards the GC leaders wife and sought God’s forgiveness. In October, in the midst of people being sent to us, person 3 came with her husband, and the 4 of us met and it was stated that perhaps this incident would shed light on my wife’s sin. My wife admitted the wrong attitude and repentance and then asked why it took so long to bring this “help” but Person 3 didn’t have an answer to that.
At the end of that friendly meeting my wife talked with the Leader about sin in a church or bad leadership in a church being as dangerous as the classic story of a frog in a pot, where the heat is turned up slowly and the frog doesn’t jump out but gets cooked. This guy said confidently that that could never happen at our church. When she asked why, he said “Our doctrine is too sound.” My wife let that one sit for a minute, but in the parking lot before we left she went back to it and said, if he/we believe in the Doctrine of Indwelling Sin, doesn’t that automatically mean that we are vulnerable to the frog in the pot scenario? He said she had him on that one, and he would have to think about it. Person 3 admitted that we were discussed in leadership meetings and her husband was at the September 7 meeting, and she honestly thought her adding her perspective might help my wife in some way.
This person was the Worship Leader’s wife, and said by Pastor X to have “concerns.” We asked if we could meet to clear it up and ask forgiveness if needed. She said she had no “Concerns” but would ask her husband. He had no concerns and a meeting never took place, even though Pastor X insisted that we meet, and we finally met on January 9. (He had no concerns, even though when he talks to Pastor X he “looks across the room and he is grieved…”.)
For our second meeting with Person 2, the Worship leader was sent out to moderate that meeting. I told him “NO” that this was a Matthew 18 meeting between Person 2 and my wife and their husbands. He insisted on moderating and I said that it would be in contradiction with scripture and my conscience. Surely, I argued, he would not want me to violate my conscience, would he? And He relented on moderating our meeting, but insisted on having a meeting with person 2′s husband and me, BEFORE we all met. In that meeting, he drew out a diagram and explained that there were only a few options for my wife. She was to repent publicly, or be taken before the church and disciplined. I asked where was the proof of sin that she was to repent for? He had no proof. I stood up, pointed to the door, and said “GET OUT!” He tried to “calm me down, and I said “JUST LEAVE NOW!” I was quite angry, but also quite controlled. Person 2′s husband had no idea about the accusations Pastor X and the Worship leader had against my wife, up to that meeting. Ever since then, I was considered the one who was “out of control.” And to a point I agreed, Pastor X nor anyone was going to control my family or me. I was simply out of their control.
I tried on several occasions to meet again with the worship leader to “try this again”, because he supposedly had several examples of my wife’s “sin”.
We were holding out for a meeting involving Apostle Y. Apostle Y called and urged us to meet with Pastor X and the Worship leader BEFORE he would come. I told Apostle Y that I would not submit my wife to another of Pastor X’s “to the wee hours of the morning” type meetings where Pastor X breaks down into fits of rage. Apostle Y was surprised. Apostle Y called Pastor X and spoke with him for a while, and then called me back and assured me that Pastor X would have an ending time of no later than 10:00 PM and promised that Pastor X will not lose his temper this time. I said OK.
On the 9th of January my wife & me met with Pastor X and his wife, and the worship leader and his wife to discuss my wife’s sin. We were hoping to find any specifics with any tread on them.
In one case, when the worship leaders wife had confided to my wife that she had a problem with how Pastor X did CG. Mothers would miss 1/3rd of CG’s. She said that she was sorry for slandering Pastor X. My wife advised her and said that she didn’t think that [the worship leader's wife] sinned, just that she was working through the questions, but was told by my wife to take them to Pastor X. By this exchange, Pastor X determined that my wife has no conviction about gossip. The worship leader, on the other hand, stated that my wife understood that she, [his wife,] was submitting to Pastor X in spite of her preferences and that was how my wife saw it. He therefore, assigned sin to my wife for not assigning sin to his wife. [This confused me then, as much as it does today. I'm not making this up! I had to study my notes for some time to be sure that I relayed it correctly here.]
Another specific sin of my wife’s was on an occasion when she and the worship leader’s wife (WLW) were talking, and the WLW said that a certain elderly woman in the church was known as “Grandma” to all the children in the church. My wife replied that this was not true, that she was not “Grandma” to our children, because they hardly knew her, and that there was no close relationship between this “Grandma” and our family. The WLW assigned “slander” to my wife for not agreeing that this woman was known as “Grandma” to our children, even though my wife would be lying if she said such a thing.
[One line notes from that meeting.]
Pastor X said we are guilty of lack of ownership of sin, and lack of Self Suspicion.
Pastor X said “You are AROGANT in your lack of self suspicion.”
We have a “Pattern of tearing things down.”
In this meeting, we maintained that we answer to God and look to the Holy Spirit for conviction of sin, and would expect others to do the same in their lives. We believed that some of these “Sins” people were holding against us were merely differences in opinions. He looked at my wife and said “God couldn’t care less about your opinion!”
Pastor X also said I misrepresented him on OCT 14 (He still says that he brought specifics in that meeting.) This meeting ended at around 11:30 PM.
Over these several months, we had several other conversations, some with Pastor X, some with others but always by his direction. My conversations with Pastor X were the most Bizarre. I became convinced in my meetings with Pastor X that “reconciliation” was not really his goal. Pastor X wanted us slapped down in our place and silenced!
I kept asking to meet in the spirit of Mt 18, but was repeatedly told “no.”
On January 15th, Pastor X called me at my work!
He and the Worship leader were on the speakerphone in Pastor X’s office and they began badgering me over my wife again. This phone call lasted 90 minutes. At one point Pastor X asked me why I refused to meet with the worship leader? I said that I made several attempts to meet and he refused to meet with me. Pastor X responded, “That is slander!” I had long strings of email threads pertaining to how I was trying to meet with the worship leader, and his continuous refusals. I finally was so angry I told Pastor X to not call me at my work again and hung up. Pastor X immediately called me back and began to tell me how he had never been hung up on before, and that was “sin”. At a later date when I spoke with Apostle Y, Apostle Y was also amazed at my hanging up on Pastor X, as though that was some great sin to hang up on one’s pastor. Not that Pastor X, taking 90 minutes of my employer’s time was not stealing from my employer. Human resources immediately confronted me that day as to how it is considered stealing when I spend too much private time on the phone. So I clocked out early that day, and stayed late to finish my work.
Then at one point (it was that 90 minute phone call in my office) Pastor X said that a Mt 18 meeting needed to take place with several couples!
Wait a minute! Several couples?! That’s not how it starts.
It starts with ONE on ONE.
Ya know, once Pastor X preached, that if he brings “sin” to someone, and if they don’t repent IMIDEATELY, they are in rebellion. I thought, “What if the “sin” you are bringing doesn’t EXIST?”
What if Pastor X is wrong?
The final meeting with Apostle Y (Complete with scripture)
So in March 2004, we finally got to sit with Apostle Y and hopefully openly talk about all these accusations and air the truth and facts I had gathered.
We were called to meet in an hotel room, in [another town], about 20 miles from the church. The meeting was to start at 7:00 PM on Friday, and again at 8:00 AM Saturday through the day until finished. Well, I thought, at least we will have time to cover all our bases. So, I went in with ALL the documentation in electronic format on my laptop and most pertinent documentation in paper copy in my briefcase, and was ready to “do battle”, when the Holy Spirit said “Do not defend yourself, only bring Scripture.”
(Sigh, “Okay LORD.”)
Apostle Y opened the meeting reading from Proverbs 26.
1 Like snow in summer and like rain in harvest, So honor is not fitting for a fool.
2 Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, So a curse without cause does not alight.
3 A whip is for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, And a rod for the back of fools.
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.
5 Answer a fool as his folly deserves, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.
6 He cuts off his own feet, and drinks violence Who sends a message by the hand of a fool.
7 Like the legs which hang down from the lame, So is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
8 Like one who binds a stone in a sling, So is he who gives honor to a fool.
9 Like a thorn which falls into the hand of a drunkard, So is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
10 Like an archer who wounds everyone, So is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by.
11 Like a dog that returns to its vomit Is a fool who repeats his folly.
12 Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
And then Apostle Y stopped reading and said, Do you see how this description of the fool looks so bad? And then it says how a man wise in his own eyes, there is more hope for a fool than for him? He pointed to me and said, you are that man who is wise in his own eyes, YOU are worse than a fool! And the Holy Spirit reminded me to not defend myself, only bring His word. It was very clear at that moment, that we were already condemned and this was just a formality. If I had defended myself, it would have only served to further condemn myself in their eyes. So, we sat for two days and took notes.
I am abbreviating this meeting for the sake of the readers here.
In the meeting was Apostle Y, Pastor X, my former friend the Worship leader, and another man who I requested to be there as an objective observer, my wife and myself. Throughout the two day meeting there was a parade of people from the church that was brought in to “testify” against us, many we had already met with before and had resolved their “concerns” but that wasn’t enough for Pastor X and Apostle Y. Some, we never knew about having any problems with. These were a surprise to us. Most of these offences were so petty; that we couldn’t believe they had harbored these offences and saved them for this meeting. Ken Sande would have been so “proud” of how well his book was used to beat us over the head. We did a lot of apologizing, and asking forgiveness in this meeting, because we considered ourselves as being before God, and wanted to truly remain humble.
After the parade had ended, Apostle Y was bringing his summary and concluded that “[My wife's] sin cannot be verified.” But there is still this pattern of behavior that is at issue.
Two days of inquisition, and they could not verify that she had done anything they accused her of! What pattern?
At one point Apostle Y finally concluded that Pastor X’s original accusation that my wife had corrected another man was wrong. Pastor X then sat forward in his chair, folded his hands and said “Would you for give me?” And before I could answer Pastor X looked over to Apostle Y and said “was that good?” (He was literally asking if his apology met with Apostle Y’s approval!) (And yes by the way, I did forgive him.) Apostle Y took it one step further. Pastor X was told to make a personal apology to each of the men present In the September 7th meeting. (Remember? 7 men!) Pastor X asked if he could just email them. Apostle Y said “No, it must be in person.” Pastor X asked if it could be a phone call. Apostle Y paused and sighed, and said that a phone call would be sufficient, but face-to-face was preferred.
I have had limited contact with some men from that meeting, and continuous contact with others, and to this day, that I know of, no man I have had contact with has had any apology from Pastor X that he falsely accused my wife.
So much for accountability.
Then I was asked if I had anything to say.
I referenced Matthew 18:
I had repeatedly requested why Mt 18 had not been adhered to as church policy clearly stated it would be. The first time I was approached with any sin (actually my wife’s sin) it was in a room with 7 men! Apostle Y countered with his argument that we just can’t call upon Mt 18 when it favors us. He went on: Paul did not cite Mt 18 in Acts 20, or in Galatians 2 when there were conflicts. Therefore I cannot fall on Mt 18 as my protection in conflict brought upon me by SGM! Excuse me? While he was arguing this, I quietly looked in my study bible (in my lap) and noticed that the book of Matthew was written AFTER those other two books were written. How could Paul cite something that had not yet been written? I thought, “What kind of stupid argument is that anyhow?”
This man is officiating as one of the apostles of this organization!
I said, that one of the recurring themes in our string of meetings was that Pastor X was not satisfied in that I was not willing to submit to the church for my sanctification, but that Pastor X insists that sanctification comes from the brothers and leadership in the church, and oh yah, the Holy Spirit too.
I stand firmly that the Holy Spirit IS our Sanctifier. PERIOD!
I cited Philippians 1:6 “He who began a good work in you will complete it…..” Apostle Y said, And I quote “That verse has NOTHING whatsoever to do with Sanctification, but that Paul was referring to a certain un named man in that church who had started a building project or something to that effect, and that the people were concerned that God would call that man away before the project was complete.” Apostle Y went on to say that we (my wife and I) “were too dependent on the Holy Spirit.”
Too dependent on the Holy Spirit?
My prayer would be that every believer be accused of such a “crime”.
Was Apostle Y willing to “hamburger Scripture” like that in order to maintain his position that I was worse than a fool because I was “right in my own eyes”?
This man is officiating as one of the apostles of this organization!
Pastor X chimed in at this point to say that he and others were constantly trying to show us our sin, and that our over dependence on the Holy Spirit was preventing us from sanctification and stated at one point that it was unfortunate that he (Pastor X) was not the Holy Sprit or we would be more sanctified. Pastor X’s words were “Regretfully, I’m not the Holy Spirit.” (That comes dangerously close to Blasphemy in my book.)
I actually have an mp3 recording of Pastor X saying something very similar in another meeting. “I love to be the Holy Spirit, and I am awful at being the Holy Spirit.”
I had my answer! It was Systemic! From the top down.
That is, if CJ Mahaney knows about this, and does nothing, he (CJ) is guilty too!
If CJ Mahaney is a leader at the same, or higher level of authority as Apostle Y, and knows nothing about this, where is his (Apostle Y’s) oversight?
Who holds Apostle Y accountable?
Who holds CJ accountable?
Or what is (was) Apostle Y hiding from CJ?
In my opinion, the biblical doctrine of indwelling sin is a valid teaching, however, SGM has turned it into a church-wide hunt for sin between believers that has people knocking each other around with the logs sticking out of their faces.
To those who are still in SGM churches, it may not be too late. It’s time to “grow up” and fall on your faces before God and understand the word of God.
We as Christians are called by God to DISCERN!
You who remain in SGM churches will stand before God someday and give an answer to HIM for your discernment, or lack thereof.
OBEY GOD! Not men.
I have spent the last 5 years healing from the hurt of being mistreated by what I thought were friends and people I could trust. Although I had to deal with my anger in the beginning, I am now, and have since been deeply concerned for Pastor X’s, Apostle Y’s, and the worship leader’s eternal status, as well as everybody else back at that church.
I keep hearing Jesus’ words,
“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’
“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (NASB)
I pray for them regularly, and hope that they will eventually repent to God and return to “the fold”. Back when we arrived to plant this church, Pastor X presented my wife and me with two ceramic mugs with the church logo and slogan on them as a gift. I have now committed to drink my coffee each Sunday morning from one of those mugs and remember what happened, and to remember that there are people who are gathering to worship something that I believe is another gospel.
We are warned in several places in scripture that false teachers will arise among us, and by my observation and experience, this is one of those times.
There is nothing new under the sun.
I started attending a SG church (PDI) back then while still in college. I mostly attended the Sunday services since they did not have a college ministry. I found myself drawn to SG because I had begun to experience the Holy Spirit in a new way, but was wary of the other Pentecostal/ Charismatic churches I had tried. Having become a Christian at a Presbyterian Church, I was still leary of what seemed like emotionalism and a loosey goosey approach to scripture. I found PDI to be upbeat in it’s worship and a more serious tone in their preaching, and I liked that a lot.
During my last couple years of college, I invited or transported many different friends and friends of friends to come and check out my new church. Many of which are still there today, and a majority of them are pastors or leaders within SG as a whole.
It was after getting married and joining a care group that I began to know more about SG and it’s particulars. I began leading worship at our care group and quickly became good friends with our leaders. My wife and I really looked up to this other couple because we were struggling to figure out this crazy little thing called marriage. Most of the time, this couple showed genuine concern and love to us and made us a part of their lives and family.
It was also at this time that I attended a small men’s group where extreme prodding into the men’s lives were the norm. We were often chastised in front of others and grilled about our sins. Confessing specific sin in very specific detail was the norm. At first I found it exciting and addicting-it was like a drug to hear someone bare their soul and sin for all to see. I was amazed at how some of the older men could seem to sniff out and sometimes even tell someone what their problem was (pride, lust, weakness in leading our wives, etc….) men would cry, I would cry. It seemed so real, and to some extent, I think some good may have come from it.
But there was a dark side that emerged later-I realized that 2 of the “older men” who pretty much lead our discussions and sin sniffing missions, were not being open about their lives. They were willing to go after (even to the point of very stern rebukes) other men but they themselves had become almost silent about their own lives. I even confronted one of the men, asking why he would always talk about someone else’s confessed sin, but never his own. I don’t remember his exact reply, but I remember being dissatisfied with his answer. The other one would always confess (in excruciating detail) some lustful thought he had about some women’s breasts at a train station, etc…but would never talk about his wife or kids or things close to home. I felt like he was being evasive about real issues. This wasn’t the tipping point for me, I just assumed that this type of behavior was not the norm.
It was later that I found out that the 2 men leading were very much in conflict with each other and that some of the others in our group, were cheating on their wives. But at the time, there was a lot of puffed up talk on how this was leading us to be God’s men, men above the others, this was “Biblical” fellowship, we were building “community”, blah, blah blah….makes me sick to think that we were avoiding God while we so boastfully applauded ourselves for our “radical” commitment.
As much as I had some doubts about what was happening in my men’s group, I still had drunk deeply of all that our pastors said upfront about “the local church” and the commitment to be about the Lord’s business in the proper church structure. So my wife and I signed up to be on a church plant-we were about to enter “alternate reality”
Next Update-The Church Plant Years….
Ok-so my wife and I had our first baby on the way- when it was announced at church, that our best friends at our SG church would be leading a church plant to a mid-sized city in the mid-west. We were very excited for them, and spent a week talking about signing up for the plant. We genuinely loved these guys and I thought the husband would make a decent pastor, if he showed the same type of love to others that they shared with us. My wife and I also felt like our new marriage and involvement with our larger church was good, but had led us away from being able to share the gospel and befriend anyone outside of our church circle. I think we even agreed ,that we were both feeling dry spiritually and wanted to be used more by God in building his kingdom-we thought this would be a perfect step towards doing just that. We shared our desire to go and we were given the green light to pursue being a part of “the team”.
In general, there was a lot of enthusiasm and much earnest prayer with the team of folks that began to consider making the journey. It was exciting to be with like minded people, risking life as we knew it to launch out in to something new-all with the hope that a new church would be born that would live out the vision of Godly community in our new city. And we would get to be part of it all-not just spectators or Olympic style applause meters-no, we’d be actual participants in God’s chosen vessel, the local church. And we were truly excited about it!
But there were other happenings that began to serve as red flags to what we were about to experience. One of the couples considering coming was told that they could not come on the plant. It was obvious there was much tension, but few details were given. I just happened to know the husband of the couple from care group, so I was aware of the sending church “intervention”. They were eventually given the go ahead at the last minute and went west with us. More on this later…
Another thing happened, there was a subtle shift in our relationship with the couple leading the plant. We were still friends, but they began to speak more about how we’d have to submit to them. My wife also began to feel a growing disconnect with the person she knew the future pastor’s wife to be, and how she (the pastor’s wife) began to carry herself and speak to my wife. I just chalked it up to some nervousness and the couples reactions to being in a more prominent leadership position. “New Leader Mistakes” is what I’d say to my wife, to calm her growing doubts. I assured her that any differences would be worked out because of the way SG desired to work things out orderly and relationally. It became especially hard for my wife-I’ll explain.
My wife began to have doubts about the church plant and was feeling more distant from this future pastor’s wife. But at the same time she was asked to speak at a special ladies event-which was set up to honor the new pastor’s wife. She was asked to please speak at the end of the event about how God had used this woman and their friendship. My wife agreed, only after I convinced her to speak about the past grace and not to worry about the current state of the relationship. She eventually “submitted” to my leadership and agreed to speak. When I picked her up after the event-I asked how it had gone. She said it was a very frustrating night for her because she felt like she had been a phony. I asked her what she meant. She replied that another pastors wife kept praising my wife’s friend, about how much God was using her and especially how wonderful to see “such good friends” now joining together in this amazing endeavor, to church plant together. My wife then got up and read her honest appreciation for all this woman had done and how much she meant to my wife-the only reason it really got to my wife-is that it hit her during her homage to her friend, that they were truly growing apart and my wife felt like a total phony for pretending that things were still as they used to be. She said many women came up to her afterwards and heartily encouraged her about being “such good friends” and how good it was to see “such good friends” going off to do ministry together. It truly became the buzz catch phrase after that night-it must’ve been said to me 100 times from my pastors and lay people alike.
Besides some of the red flags-we pushed ahead. As the target launching out date neared, we were constantly praised for what we were about to do. At one point our Senior Pastor had called us (the church plant team) on stage. He pointed to us and said we were his heroes of the faith. In our final weeks before leaving the sending church we had meetings with pastors, church leaders-it all seemed so important-like we were going on an Apollo mission or something. We were warned that they’re might be trouble ahead-but not to worry-the home church would never leave us nor forsake us. They would always be available and especially to resource our new pastor-who would lead and guide us thru these truly exciting and amazing times. I know some of you are thinking that I’m being too flip-but I need you to understand that it was such a heady type of atmosphere that surrounded the sending out of this team. It truly felt like we were on a mission from God-historymakers, pioneers, spiritual heroes were some of the praises that all of us on the team were told.
Finally, the day comes, the final cut of those who not only had a desire, but actually quit jobs, found new ones, said goodbye to friends and family and moved out to plant a new church. My new pastor preached with passion about the city we were moving to-the racial reconciliation that would occur, the lives that would be touched, the desire to preach the gospel, and be a new testament local church. Special songs were sung, prayers prayed, and a total of 3 couples and a handful of single folks in their 20′s launched off……..
After the long drive and moving everyone in to our new locale-the adventure began. After about a week into my new job, someone familiar with the fact that I had moved to be a part of a new church, asked me about the town we planned to meet in. I told him all about our vision to preach the gospel, be a multi-cultural/ multi-racial church and told him where we were located. He practically laughed at me when I told him the town. He laughed because he didn’t know how we were going to do all those great multi-cultural out reach ministries in an almost all white, upper class suburb that was called “the bubble” by those who lived there. I was slightly shocked and asked another church plant member if he knew about “the bubble”. He said he did and that it was true (he had grown up near by).
Other things began to happen as well-we began doing “outreach” in the neighborhoods. We passed out free cofee and flyers about our church in front of a drug store. We passed out batteries in another nearby neighborhood (for peoples’ fire alarms) and offered an invite to our church -as we awkwardly explained why a brand new church, with no affiliation to the local fire department, was passing out batteries and offering spiritualized reminders about fire safety. It was so weird. What was even weirder is that we were calling this evangelism and spending an inordinate amount of time obsessing with our outreaches and upcoming new church. We rented a table at a local outdoor grocery market and passed out flyers about our new local church. We all had to sign up and do our time at the table. As I remember-there was a lot of bickering over whether or not we should have some sort of gospel tract made available at the table. After much infighting between a few of us-I think our pastor agreed mid-day to have chic tracts or something to that extent on the table. Whew-I’m sure you can all imagine how inviting we must have seemed with all our wrangling over whether or not to have gospel tracts at our “grocers” table. As I write this-I’m still amazed at how absurd so much of this actually was and that I spent months being a part of this nervous energy.
Well the official launch day came-after month’s of prayer, music practices (I was one of the worship leaders), and evangelistic outreaches as described above-we held our first service. But it didn’t go totally as planned. At the last minute-the building we were going to rent changed their mind and pushed us back a week. Not to worry-we could not cancel because of all the new folks that might come from our evangelism and batteries. It was decided that our first meeting would be held at someone’s house instead-and a few scouts would go to the advertised meeting spot to direct the newcomers to the proper location.
Another detail-since we’d been prepared to set up chairs and full sound system for the worship band in the rented building-we stayed on track and set up around 40 chairs and a full sound system in this person’s house (no joke). Besides being very labor intensive-it was also extremely cumbersome to have a full blown worship band (and sound system) crammed into our friends new home in “the bubble”.
We anxiously waited for our scouts to arrive with all the new people. But here’s the strange thing-nobody ever showed up at the advertised meeting place. But instead of packing things up or scaling back for the 12 or so adults-our new leader launched us into a full fledged church service patterned after our sending church (whose attendance was over 500 people). We passed out printed programs, the worship band played, we had feedback that caused everyone to go temporarily deaf, we even had our pastor turn over the announcements to another worship leader and we all were instructed to continue speaking in the microphones for the service. The worship leader had originally planned to give a welcome to guests-but since there weren’t any, he thought he’d skip it. Oh no-our pastor instructed him to go thru the whole deal. You know-”Is anybody here for the first time, if so, we have a packet just for you, if you’d just stand so the ushers can see you….”
And then our pastor launched into a 30 minute sermon about the church (and it was obvious he had geared it towards visitors)- it was absolutely insane
Not that what we actually did was insane-just that we were “pretending” there might be visitors, that we were “pretending” we were still in a rented auditorium and not in someones house-thus the need to speak to all 6 people in the cheap seats with a microphone. Never mind we were only 5 feet apart-why let reality set in? “Pretending” that this was what we had signed up for…….I could go on. It was one of the more “twilight zone” moments of my life.
But as my title suggests, this was just the start…………to be continued.
So back to the story….. after our fateful first meeting in a member’s home, we started settling into a routine and lowered our expectations from our outreaches. It’s hard for me to be exact and chronological after this point because so much happened in such a short time period (about 1 year). When I was discussing with my wife all that happened and could be written about-we laughed and shook our heads at how much crazy stuff happened.
Let me just comment-that even after such a crazy and disappointing start-my wife and I were still hopeful and very committed to trying to make a real go for helping to establish this new church.
As a church, we settled into our new rented building and began to learn all of the small details that go into the logistics of doing church. We set up chairs, sound equipment, made coffee, set up Sunday school rooms, practiced worship, hosted the actual service, greeted each other and visitors, and then cleaned up everything we had just set up a few hours earlier. It was very busy and at times we were very stressed and pressed for time to keep up with all the commitments to establish the church. I had a good friend from our sending church ask me what I was learning spiritually from being on the church plant. I told him that I learned that God is present at every church meeting, but that God won’t set up the chairs. Anyway, it was in the midst of doing church on Sunday, care group, and prayer night that things relationally, started to become strained with our Pastor and his wife.
In my last post, I mentioned how my wife had started to feel that her good friendship with the pastor’s wife had started to change for the worse. When we actually arrived to the plant-it went even further downhill. It seemed that the only time that she (the pastor’s wife) wanted to relate to my wife was if she was giving advice on how my wife was raising our 1 year old son. My wife tried telling this to her and that she wanted to still be friends and the PW told her flatly that she should expect not to be friends. She then went on to explain that the pastor’s from our sending church had counseled them about this and told her that to be in leadership (or in her case, married to a pastor) would mean that she should start relating more to those in leadership and less to others (even old friends). My wife was flabbergasted and hurt, but tried to express her hope to still spend some time together. Eventually the PW told my wife that she’d be willing to get together once a week to go thru a book on Child Discipline-because she was concerned about my wife and her parenting. My wife agreed to, not because she wanted to read this book, but because she still held out hope for the relationship. What was even weirder in all this, was that our Pastor often times would state in his sermons-that our new church was going to be built on close personal relationships with each other. This was confusing to us-how are we going to build relationally if we should expect to not be very good friends because they were now in leadership (?).
Other random memories form this first year-
The couple who was put under church discipline for not being able to sell their home and move out with the rest of the team to do the plant. I never figured out how that worked or how they were to be disciplined. But I was told by our pastor so I know it happened. They never did sell their house. Lucky them!
There was the time we exhausted our little church to put on a free concert with a major Christian musician. We drew over 500 people and the concert was great. We were certain that this event would cement us in the community and bring in more families to the church (1 person on the leadership team even commented that this event might increase our tithing base). To our dismay-only one family visited the week after the concert and they didn’t even stay for the whole service.
There was the prayer meeting that was hosted at our home-in which one of the church plant team members stormed out before we started. He was offended because I told him I believed that the Dow Jones was likely to reach 8,000 (this was back in early 1997) within the next couple years, based on some research I had done to counter Christian authors that were predicting a stock market crash. I thought we were having a friendly chat. He stormed off in a huff, because he had sold all his stocks because his prophetic gifting told him that a crash was imminent and therefore sold all his stock holdings. He insulted me and told me I couldn’t possibly know, because I didn’t own stocks and was in debt. Not a great way to start a prayer meeting.
There was the couple who started attending and would fight at the beginning of just about every church service. For some reason our pastor would greet them from the front with the microphone, just as worship was getting started. He’d ask them how they were doing and the wife would answer that she was doing horrible because of her husband and begin listing all the ways that she felt neglected by him. They’d begin to argue, our pastor would smile, and I’d start the worship set to the sound of bickering in the background.
There was the prophecy mic-our local school board member who felt led to hone his prophetic calling on us-would read entire chapters of prophetic judgment towards the ancient nations from the book of Isaiah. He not only read these often-but would annunciate them with great fervor and spit, about the impending doom that was to befall those woeful nations. Ah-good stuff.
There was the time the worship team got into a heated debate over whether or not there could be alien life in outerspace.
There was the time my pastor said he was concerned about my doctrine. When I asked him which doctrine, he couldn’t be specific. But he then said he was concerned about where I was getting my doctrine from. I was too busy to be doing any outside study apart from church-so I told him that the only doctrine I was getting was from him. He grew quiet and then changed the subject.
Not all that happened in this first year was bad-we did see a couple of new folks become Christians and it is always sweet to see a new creation in Christ come to be. One was an older Gentleman who was related to a couple I knew. Larry Tomzcak had come to our small church to encourage us, but he also did a small public outreach on a Saturday night, and this older man responded to the gospel and became a Christian. At first he was excited in his new faith and was at every church meeting for many months. After a few months, he would still attend church, but his Daughter in law commented at care group, that she was concerned for him. She said that she thought he was not growing spiritually and had stopped reading his Bible. When she asked him-he was evasive-and she asked us to pray for him because she was worried for him. About 1 month later, an editor/journalist for Soveregin Grace’s magazine called some of us to write about all that was going on at our church plant. When I read the article (it was short) I couldn’t believe it. The article was fairly non-descript, but at the end it included the story of this older gentleman, how he came to Christ (thru Larry), and then ended the article by saying he was now a regular part of our church (which was true) and that he was flourishing spiritually (which was not true). I asked his Daughter in law about it and she said she had told the editor exactly what she had told us as was just as confused as we were about the article and it’s misrepresentation.
Another nagging thought from this period in our lives-is just how much pressure we were under and just how exhausted we had become. The job I took to move for the church plant fell thru after 3 or 4 months. It was a small business and the owner’s wife had fallen ill and could no longer afford to keep my division open. No problem-I started working 2 full time jobs and parking cars on weekends at a Golf course to make ends meet. It was while I was working like a dog, that I had time to be apart from the church and all that went into running it, and actually think about what was going on. I was working at a restaurant and became a shift manager after a month. While running one of the shifts-I befriended on of the other cooks and he eventually found out about why I had moved and the new church I was part of. He showed some interest and we had a long conversation about faith (he had some Christian friends whom he respected) and music. I remember thinking to myself that I’d love to find a way to share my faith with him more…I thought about giving him some free music lessons, I began thinking about maybe starting a small Bible study to go thru the gospel of John and then it hit me, that the one place I did not want to take him, was to my church. Yes-the very church that I was straining to build up-was the last place I’d want to take him. It hit me hard-because it was the first time I admitted (at least to myself) that maybe this church planting thing was not all that it was cracked up to be. It also hit me how silly all the puffed up talk about our church really was-as I worked my jobs-I met hundreds of people who could’ve cared less about where I went to church. My only hope of sharing Christ, was to be available and open to them right there on the job-not with some crazy hope that they’d come to a church meeting first to meet Jesus and believe the good news. I did get to share Christ with some of my co-workers that I parked cars with-some were interested in what I shared, none were very interested in coming to church.
Other relational strains began to hit the fan. Because I was working so late-I was sometimes late for meetings and was occasionally reprimanded for being a poor example to the worship team. I accepted the reprimand and made extra effort to be on time for worship rehearsals before church. One Sunday morning, my wife and I were rushing to be there on time when our 1 year old wet thru his pants and needed to change his clothes. It caused us to be late and once again I was reprimanded, but not given the chance to explain. I stuffed it-but it really bothered me to be treated like a child. Another incident occurred soon after that floored me. Another church plant team member, took it upon himself to reprimand me about my commitment to the church. I was confused because the pastor had recently thanked my wife and I for our support on the plant. He said he could feel our support. I don’t remember all this other man said, but I’ll never forget that he kept raising his voice at me to the point of yelling at me about how I needed to be more committed to the church and to this man (referring to the pastor who was now sitting quietly not saying anything in my defense). What was worse was that he was yelling at me at a public food court in a busy shopping mall. My own Father (who could be a yeller) had never yelled at me like this, let alone in a mall-I think I said very little and maybe even started to cry. I don’t exactly remember-but I can still feel remember the absolute shock that I felt. He then proceed to yell at me some more and say that the only reason he was doing this was because he loved me. What? Love me. This is love? Publicly humiliating me by yelling at me because you don’t think I’m doing enough? This is love? I was truly hurt, confused, and maybe even depressed after this incident. What hurt the most was that my pastor said nothing in my defense. He actually seemed to approve of what was being said and made no comment about the delivery style. Why did I put up with this? I’ve asked myself this question many times and I still don’t know why I let someone treat me this way.
Later, this same man interrupted me mid sentence, as I tried to offer an opinion on an upcoming event the church was planning. Again, the pastor I was speaking with just started talking to this man and never finished our conversation. Later that morning, the whole worship team (which included our pastor and his teenage child) were back stage to pray for the upcoming service. It was very apparent that there was some tension between the pastor and his teenager. Both seemed visibly upset and agitated. One of the sweetest women on the worship team, graciously asked if there was something wrong. Our pastor said no. She graciously asked again, because his teenager ducked out right after we started praying. He said that there was something going on-but that he couldn’t say. It was frustrating to see him be so evasive. Here was a man who had allowed me to be raked over the coals and yelled at in a mall and he couldn’t even be honest about a family fight or whatever it was that occurred that was disrupting his Sunday morning. I actually snapped at that moment-I couldn’t even pray as the rest of the team tried to pray for him in a nondescript way for ”whatever” was going on. I actually huffed and I thought my stomach would explode because I was so frustrated and angry. He looked up at me during prayer and grabbed me to stay after everyone had left. I was so mad at him that we started to argue harshly. I remember flailing my arms in disgust and telling him “how could he lead us when he can’t even be honest about his own life?”. He gave me some hairbrained answer about how it wouldn’t be appropriate for him as pastor to do such a thing. The church service was now 5 minutes behind schedule because the worship leader (me) and the pastor were verbally fighting backstage behind a curtain. Somehow-we managed to tone it down and go out and pull off the church service. We did manage to talk after the service and we forgave each other for the argument that we had backstage. I never did learn what had caused all the fuss between him and his kid, but I felt guilty for expressing myself in such anger and never pursued it or about the recent incident in the mall.
The hardest part was still yet to come- my wife decided that she needed to confront my pastor’s wife about their relationship and the way she seemed to be judgmental towards us and our parenting choices. I called our pastor and he and his wife agreed to come over. I took some time off work and the 4 of us sat down and had a very long and emotional conversation. My wife expressed her feelings and gave specific examples of how she felt her friend had wronged my wife or simply been judgmental in things she said about us. We had prayed ahead of time and were committed to trying to follow Matthew 18 in hopes of being heard and working through these things. I still believed that we would be a part of this church for many years to come and we wanted to be right with these folks. The best way to typify what happened is to tell you what happened at the end of our time together. After hours of us being as honest as we could -about how we felt wronged -and trying to be clear and gracious so that forgiveness could occur. Our pastor’s wife ended the meeting by saying she really wasn’t sure if she agreed with us and that she’d have to pray about and get back to us. She then got up and left our apartment. After saying goodbye to our pastor I closed the door and actually felt like we might get thru this and see our relationships grow. A week or so went by and no follow up occurred. We didn’t press it at first because we were trying to respect their wishes to pray and think about what we said. Another week and a couple more awkward church services-I decided to call our pastor. I asked him about the conversation and asked him if we needed to talk. I apologized for maybe pushing, but we didn’t want to pretend everything was fine-if in reality- we had made his wife mad or bitter or if she felt we were mistaken. He said he didn’t think she was mad and he never really answered me about getting back to us. We eventually left the church plant a few months later, not because of all that had happened but because my employment situation was putting us deeper in debt. My parents offered to let us stay with them rent free so we could get back on our feet. We felt bad for leaving the church plant after only a year, but saw little option because of our financial crisis.
We talked to our pastor and his wife-they understood our situation and since we were moving near CJ’s church-we agreed to get together when they were in town for leadership training. We then moved and started attending CLC. A few months later, we heard that our pastor and his wife were going to be at a pastors’ conference, so we called and left 2 or 3 messages saying that we’d really like to get together and work things out. They did attend the conference, but they never called us back. Later that year, I landed employment back at my old job before the church plant-so we moved and started attending the church that had sent us out to plant. It was here that I approached our pastor to see if he would help us reconcile with our now former pastor and his wife. He seemed eager and we arranged to meet that week. When I laid out all that had happened and how we had tried following Matt 18 as we had been taught-he seemed like he wanted to help. I expected that he would call our old pastor and arrange a time to meet and work it thru. Instead, he told me to write out all the ways I had sinned against this pastor and his wife. Then I should call my former pastor and confess my sin to him. Then once that was out of the way-then he could help me work thru our issues. I was confused as to why I needed to do this-but in the interest in trying to reconcile I agreed to do this. It wasn’t hard to think of ways I had sinned so I wrote them down-but what was hard, was that I had already confessed these things to this man and his wife at our meeting. I hemmed at calling him and put it off for a while. I did call and leave a voice mail and said I wanted to talk-he didn’t call back.
After a month or so-I finally made up my mind that I would try again to call this man, way my pastor suggested. Later that day-another strange twist in the saga-the same man on the church plant team that had yelled at me, walked thru the door at the retail store I was now managing. It had been almost a year since we had left and he told me that he had left the church plant as well. I told him this didn’t surprise me because of the tension I had seen in his relationship with the pastor. We stepped into a back room and he began to tell me some of the details of why they had left, in particular the major problems he and his wife had in relating to the pastor’s wife. I told him that I understood what he meant. He asked me for more details and I rebuffed-saying that I didn’t want to say because I was in the middle of trying to reconcile with these folks and had sought help from our sending church. He kept asking for details-I again explained that I didn’t want to get into it and jeopardize the process. He then swore to me that he didn’t even see our old pastor anymore and that he could be trusted. I then chose to confide in him-I explained some of what had gone on and he confirmed some of the things that my wife and I had tried to work out. It felt good to feel like I wasn’t crazy-and even wondered if maybe I had misjudged this fellow because of his harsh tone in the mall. He shared some more of his trials and decision to leave the church and then he went on his merry way to a business meeting. My conversation with this old church plant member encouraged me to call our old pastor and stand firm.
The next day I began to worry about whether I should have trusted this man and given in to his questions. I didn’t want to be accused of gossip. So I took my afternoon break and decided to make the phone call to confess my sins and to try and re-open lines of communication before any damage could be done. With many butterflies in my stomach, I dialed my pastor’s office number and he answered. I mumbled a hello and started, in a semi scripted fashion, to explain why I was calling and that I wanted to confess some things to him. He interrupted me and told me that, while he wanted to do this, he couldn’t because he was aware of my conversation with this other former church plant member and that he was afraid I had gossiped. I was floored-that man had lied to me-he still got together for breakfast once a week with our old pastor. He had flown home the night of our conversation and had spilled the beans the next morning at breakfast. My heart sank and I was speechless at first. My old pastor started to give me a mini sermon on gossip and bitterness. But I couldn’t say anything-I was shell shocked. I did manage to say that I couldn’t believe this…he was perturbed because I hadn’t answered his question related to his mini sermon. He angrily asked me what I couldn’t believe, I told him I couldn’t believe all that had happened in the last 2 years and how terrible the whole thing had been. I then found my courage and told him that I thought he had gossiped by listening to this man tell things I told him in confidence and that was going to hang up and call the other pastor involved and tell him the whole deal. I slammed down the phone and did just that… but to no avail. This other pastor didn’t seem to know what to do-he promised to talk to this other pastor and get back to me. He never really did get back to me, and despite living less than a mile from our apartment-he consistently put me off for over 4 months. By then we decided that there was little else we could do-to either reconcile with our old pastor or to have our current pastor help us either… I informed our pastor that we were leaving the church. We did talk for hours about many issues, including theological that had been born out of our troubles-but in the end he “released” to go and prayed with me.
I feel sad as I write this-because it has now been 10 years since trying to reconcile with people we loved, and had committed our loves to serve with-only to be turned out with silence and basic indifference. And in leaving SG-we essentially lost all of our friends. Some who had been in our wedding-one whom I considered the brother I never had. This is too painful to recount-needles to say-he hasn’t returned my phone calls in a while.
So why write all this-why not forgive and forget? Well I do forgive them and I actually pray for the many folks I know who are still in the movement. But I write it for those who are going through some of these same types of situations-so that they know that they aren’t crazy. So that they know that SG and their theology of leadership leads to these types of outcomes.
“Nothing matters except faith, expressing itself thru love”
I’m afraid my story is not unique. I shared my daughter’s story because for years I have read similar stories and thought, “Oh no, not another one!” and would relive it all over again. The fact that it is STILL happening, that children are still being dreadfully, horribly hurt and families torn apart, and those pastors are allowed to continue to perpetuate the atmosphere that allows it to happen made me have to finally speak out about our own experience. I am just one of many. And if this many stories are public, many more are never going to be known.
My husband and I spent many years at our Sovereign Grace church, first as young adults and then later after we married and had kids. We homeschooled, we got involved in home group, and created a nice little bubble for ourselves. We looked the part and believed what we were told to believe and even though we never fit the mold, we kept trying.
The thing was, though, my husband had a porn addiction that was kept hidden (because a Godly wife doesn’t reveal her husband’s sins to the world, or even to close friends). He would get caught, he would “repent” and humble himself, and I was to forgive him. A vicious pattern that would repeat itself over and over, and would set the stage for what was to come.
It all came to a head when I discovered that my husband had been sexually abusing our 10-year-old daughter. I had felt something was not quite right for a couple months, but could not figure out what was going on, and kept telling myself that I was imagining things, that it was Satan putting evil thoughts in my head, that it couldn’t possibly be anything like I thought. My husband had always expressed such disgust at this sort of thing that I was sure he wasn’t capable of it. And yet the thoughts and feelings continued. I would catch them alone in a room, with my daughter sitting on his lap, or he would call her down to the basement to do some chore with him alone. He started spending a long time putting her to bed each night, but only a few minutes with our other children, while I was busy with the toddler.
One night, I am not sure why I did this, but I went into my daughter’s room to kiss her goodnight after her father had gone downstairs to get on the computer, and I said to her, “You know, honey, NO one, not even me or Daddy, has the right to touch you in your private areas”. And she started crying and said that Daddy had been doing just that every day for a long time, and making her touch him as well.
I fainted right there across her bed. Then quickly came to, and comforted her. I told her that it would NEVER happen again, and she would be safe from then on.
Then I went downstairs and confronted him. He fell to his knees and begged me not to tell anyone. I said I had to protect our daughter, so I called our associate pastor, whom I’ll call Pastor Bill. As I told Pastor Bill what had happened, my husband ran out of the house and got in the car. I ran after him and told him not to leave and he said he didn’t have any choice because now he was going to jail and he just couldn’t face it and indicated he would rather die than go to jail, then drove off.
We spent three days in agony not knowing where he was or if he was still alive. He turned off his cell phone. Pastor Bill came over to our house and talked with my daughter and made her tell him everything that my husband had done to her and for how long. After the first 24 hours, Pastor Bill gave the situation over to another pastor, “Pastor Fred,” to handle.
I was praised up and down for not calling the police but for contacting them first, for being a “Godly example” of a Christian wife, etc. When we went to church the first Sunday after the crisis, I was with two of my close woman friends, and they asked me what was going on, and I told them what had happened, feeling the need for support and help.
When I told Pastor Fred I had told them, he was quite upset with me for telling anyone, and reprimanded me for gossiping, and then had to meet with them and our care group to do damage control, to make sure no one would know what was really happening or had happened.
Finally my husband answered his phone on the fourth day, and the pastors convinced him to come back. But not to our house. They sent us to stay with my husband’s relatives (another family from our SG church) for several days and let my husband come get his things and move in with his mother.
We were all brought in for counseling with the pastors, first me and my daughter separately, where she had to again tell what had happened, and where she was told she needed to forgive her father, that she was a sinner too, and didn’t she feel that she had sinned by not telling me sooner, and we were made to feel that she had somehow sinned by allowing it to continue, even insinuating that maybe she had even wanted that attention a bit. She was TEN YEARS OLD.
I should also add that I was told by Pastor Fred that I should not get outside counseling for my daughter at all. He said it would expose her to ungodly counsel and do more harm than good, that God was the only healing she needed. So we never got any outside professional help, but my husband got counseling for about 4 months from the pastors. It is the “trickle down” theory of taking care of the “head” and it will trickle down to the wife and kids.
During this time that they were separately meeting with my husband, they counseled him and they met with his boss (another church member) to inform him of what had happened and why he was absent from work. It turned out that all of his late night work at the office had really been opportunities for viewing porn, including child porn, on the office computers, and he was fired from his job.
The pastors knew that so many people knew about what had happened that they were required by law to report it, so they told my husband that he needed to turn himself in instead of their doing it. That was how they got out of their legal responsibility to report it. My husband’s relative who is a lawyer told him not to do it himself, but to use a certain lawyer he knew. The lawyer he had suggested met with my husband and I together, and he said that no, my husband shouldn’t turn himself in because if he did then he would go to jail and we would be without any income, instead since he was now obligated by law to report the crime, he would talk to the state’s attorney and let us know what to do. We didn’t hear anything from him for weeks and weeks, and were left to constantly wonder why.
After about two months of this kind of counseling by the pastors, I was told that in order to truly be a Godly wife, I had to forgive my husband because my sins as a less than Godly wife had also contributed to my daughter’s abuse. I was told that had I better met my husband’s needs physically, he wouldn’t have been tempted elsewhere. A meeting was held at Pastor Fred’s house, where my husband could apologize to my daughter for hurting her and ask her to forgive him. Again she was reminded by Pastor Fred that she was a sinner too, and that Jesus had forgiven her, so she must forgive her father to be a good Christian.
So I was told to allow him to move back home, and to make sure I had physical relations with him regularly, and books were offered telling me how to have a Godly sexual relationship with him, like Intended for Pleasure: Sex Technique and Sexual Fulfillment in Christian Marriage, and The Five Love Languages.
I was told to put a lock on my daughter’s door, on the inside, and every night after I had kissed her goodnight, she had to lock her door to keep her father out.
And he moved back into our house on Christmas Eve that year. We resumed looking like a “normal” Sovereign Grace Ministries family, my husband was greatly praised for repenting and we were praised for reconciling, and every time we had sex I got sick to my stomach afterwards. Every time he moved or got up in the night, I sat bolt upright in bed. If he went out of our room, I lay there listening to make sure he didn’t go near any of the children’s bedrooms.
The only “counseling” I myself received during this time was when Pastor Fred would ask me to join him and my husband in their sessions, and he would ask how it was going, having sex with my husband, and would want specifics, and right in front of him so I couldn’t really be honest but would just say it was ok.
(As an aside, it seems to me personally that the pastors at SGM have a weird and unhealthy fascination with details of sexual encounters. I know a teen girl who was having relations with her boyfriend, and when she was caught and brought in for counseling, the SGM pastor made her “confess” each and every detail of every sexual encounter the two of them had had, before he could say that she was repentant. I just find it sick. They made my daughter do the same thing, giving every detail of her father’s molestations, but not so they could report it.)
I kept calling the lawyer asking if he had heard anything, and he kept saying no, not yet. Then in February I finally got some specific answers from him. No, he hadn’t actually turned in a deposition. He had simply written a hypothetical report up and put it on the attorney’s desk. Unless I wanted to go in and file charges against my husband, nothing would happen. I called the pastors and told them all of this, and they said that it was obviously a gift of grace from God, and that as a Christian I was not to bring civil authorities into it, and that I was to let it drop and not press charges because my husband was repentant and had agreed to their counseling, and they felt like everything had been discharged properly and what wonderful examples of God’s grace and mercy we were.
A little over a year later, there was a new church plant, and we were told to be a part of that. How convenient for them…
We were part of it, but soon after the church plant happened, I caught my husband looking in the bathroom window from outside when my daughter went in there to use the toilet. I told her to get out of the bathroom quickly, that he was out there looking in at her and not to use that bathroom any more.
I called “Pastor Kevin,” the pastor of the newly planted SGM church, and told him what had happened. He said that sin was insidious and that I should expect my husband to have moments of weakness, and that I was wrong to warn my daughter because I was further damaging her relationship with her father and preventing it from being reconciled. And that was the end of it.
At that moment I knew that not only was I and my children without protection from the church, but that I was truly alone and would just have to make the best of it. I could not rely on any more help from the pastors and it was up to me to protect my children as best I could.
For five years I struggled to be that protection for them. My daughter continued to lock her bedroom door every night. I continued to not sleep deeply and to always be alert to his prowling at night, and we maintained our facade as a healed and reconciled family. I forced myself to allow him to have sex with me, even though it made me physically ill. The toll on my self-esteem, my self-respect, and my family was huge. My marriage relationship was dead, but I was trapped inside it trying to be that “Godly Wife”.
However, we were kept at arm’s length from the rest of the church. Other parents did not include my daughter in birthday parties or other activities because they were afraid she might tell their children what had happened. She was damaged in their eyes. Other parents pulled away from me as well, except for one friend.
Finally, I just burned out. I just couldn’t do it any longer. I couldn’t pretend to love a man who had sexually assaulted my child every day for months. But I didn’t know how to get out. So I started sleeping in my son’s room on a cot, pretending that I had just accidentally fallen asleep while putting him to bed. Not coming out unless my husband actually came to get me.
It was only with the strength and support of my one remaining friend that I was able to finally get the courage to divorce him and leave the church, when my daughter was 16. It was a long two-year process, in which I was shunned and ostracized by the church body under instructions by the pastors for “abandoning my family” and breaking my marriage vows. I was told I couldn’t leave the church because as long as my husband was a member, I was a member also. But I finally got my divorce and broke free, and maintained custody of my children.
My ex-husband still attends that same Sovereign Grace Ministries church, even though several of the founding families and the pastors all know that he is a child molester. I would venture to say that none of the rest of the church has any idea, though. He is remarried, and when he has visitation with our younger children, he still takes them to church events.
My older children are now grown and don’t have much to do with my ex-husband at all. They are also very bitter towards Sovereign Grace Ministries and want nothing to do with them. Their relationship with God has been destroyed, and it will take the work of the Holy Spirit alone to restore it, in His time. But otherwise, they are happy and doing well.
I have found a wonderful church that has helped me realize that the world, and God, are so much bigger than Sovereign Grace Ministries ever taught. I have learned that there is room in God’s house for all different types of people, and theologies and doctrines. And although it took several years, I have begun to trust God again, and read his word with new eyes. God IS good, and even Sovereign Grace Ministries can’t destroy that.
I was involved in an SGM church for 3 years. At the time I was a very desperate soul in need of help. Late in college I began struggling harder with a subject that had always befuddled me: church. I was never on board with church traditions. I had read the bible within months of my conversion, and my experience did not point at all to how christianity was today. This lead to a lot of discouragement and confusion eventually because I felt isolated so naturally, and after college I was in serious doubt and sinful behavior. When I was near bottom the Lord provided a friend upon my request and a couple of months later led me to some sincere Christians when I visited a SG church.
I was never really on board with PDI/SGM beliefs fully, never really got a good message received from sunday, never really bought into their culture fully, and found their teachings on courtship and homeschooling and such to only have some practical benefit for them because they were geared towards it. However, I had a couple of good friends who I found to be sincere and I was attracted to their faith. They also had neat culture of service to each other, and I liked the family atmosphere. Their counter-cultural views meshed easily with me since I struggled with traditional christianity, and the friendliness was nice.
However, my weakness in “not having things right” made me subjective to self-doubt and was hoping to find wisdom from older believers there and friends to help me. By the end of my time there I realized that they didn’t have it however, and I thought I’d give them one more chance to prove me wrong about their faith. Knowing that I hadn’t experienced much of Christian abundant life there and that the pastor had rubbed me wrong nearly every time he said something to me (I could name about 4-5 instances specifically that were rude comments) I decided to meet with the pastor to clear a few things up. Mainly the root of this interaction was caused by a remark in his sermon one day, in which he said to look around the room and if you see someone taking notes that it must say something about their hearts. I asked to meet him so that we could discuss that and he avoided the subject for sometime until 3 months later.
Unfortunately the timing was awful. I had fell in love (or more accurately – became enfatuated) with a girl there, and I was courting her. Even though I didn’t believe in courtship as the right thing for me, I felt like I needed to be respectful and hoped it wouldn’t be too bad. The father wanted my courtship to go a certain way, and he included wanting the pastor’s opinion on it before ever giving me the go-ahead to the next step of engagement.
So my need to talk to the pastor and get to know him and discuss the taking notes thing “happened” to come at the same time the father decided that he wanted to include the senior pastor in the process (I wonder if that was encouraged by the pastor in the first place). Things did not go too smoothly in our three or four meetings, and I didn’t find him to be very humble or loving.
When the father gave me permission for engagement, the pastor called the father and did not agree with it. Eventually we met to discuss the decision and it turned out to be a smear campaign against me without the girl present and without anyone representing me (in a way that I felt that I was being represented). I really disagree with how they went about doing that and how it left me without resolution or hope or peace. I also didn’t like their stance on courtship which was more rigid than I thought and how God really seemed absent in it all.
I had many friends in the church, but unfortunately many had just gotten married or into a relationship. By the end of a month later I was living alone and without friends calling me. I couldn’t continue to bang against the drum of my emotions for the situation so I kind of bowed out of the church quietly. I’m sure they all thought some things bad about me for that, but it hurt that they didn’t try to help and I couldn’t bear to keep walking into a wall. Everyone outside of the church was very supportive of me (nonchristians and christians alike) and thought I should leave the church. I did not get the same response at all from those in the church. Unfortunately, I also felt sort of isolated afterwards because even though people outside of the church supported me, understandably they also subconsciensely questioned my reasons for courting the girl or wanting to get married so quickly to her (and my whole involvement in the church).
I really wanted to keep fighting for the girl, but the outside influence encouraged me away from the situation I thought and I also thought it meant to let go of the girl. Well it was hard to recover from the scars in the situation and to gain clarity from all that went on, but this site has been the number 1 influence in me being able to move on and understand.
For frame of reference I was 26 and she was 23.
Hi! I’ve never joined a blog before–I’m just one of those surfers who likes to read but not add any comments. But something made me decide to jump into this conversation (the Holy Spirit perhaps?).
First of all, let me state here that I am not here to gossip or slander. No…my intent is to simply affirm that what many of you are saying here is true and to warn any who care to live by the pure, solid truth of our Lord Jesus Christ that SGM is probably not the best church to get involved with–-not if you want to live a true, authentic Christian life. For years, I defended these men whom you speak of but now I am ready to speak the truth as I know it-–because it is time to expose it.
My name is Pia and in 1988, I was hired to work for PDI (People of Destiny International) straight from college. An honors graduate from a prestigious university in Washington, DC, I could have worked for any secular company for higher pay but I chose to work for PDI because I felt God calling me there. I do not regret the years I spent, dedicated to PDI–but not for the reasons I originally thought. No, I am glad I worked for PDI because I learned how to be more discerning and wise as a believer, even if it did cause me enormous pain and heartache for many years.
PDI, as you may or may not know, oversaw a bunch of churches all over the U.S. It also put out monthly magazines which I kept for years, re-reading them over and over as daily spiritual nourishment. My “highest” boss was Larry Tomczak. My husband and I also went to the first of the PDI churches, CLC (Covenant Life Church) and, of course, my “highest” pastor there was C.J. Mahaney. Not only did I idolize these men whom I saw on an almost daily basis–as a baby Christian–I listened with avid attention to everything they said, I read everything they wrote, I obeyed everything they told me, and I thought it was God’s greatest gift that I got to be with all these godly leaders from Monday to Friday and then fellowship and worship with them on Sunday, week after week. If there was anybody who was thoroughly “brainwashed” by this PDI movement–it was me.
I was so into PDI that when I moved to California in 1992, I joined their church plant there called Abundant Life Covenant Church, pastored by Che Ahn, Larry Tomczak’s close buddy. The three of them (Larry, C.J. and Che) actually started out together as TAG (”Take and Give”) leaders in the late 1970’s when they all got radically saved during the Jesus Movement and became on fire to preach the gospel of Christ. Once again, at ALCC, I devoted myself completely to the service of the church, not knowing that Che Ahn (who happens to be my former brother-in-law) was the most “controlling” of the three…and probably the most misguided and therefore, the most dangerous.
Let me emphasize one thing, before I go on. Pia is my real name and if anyone who was part of either PDI, CLC or ALCC reads this, who was part of these churches or the PDI movement back then–they would probably remember me. Here’s what I want to emphasize…I am writing this down for one simple reason: because the truth sets us free! I truly love these men…they taught me many valuable things in my early Christian days…I saw real love, care, compassion and mercy from these men…they do truly love Jesus and they do truly believe they are doing what they were called to by God. I am humble enough to admit that when we appear before the throne of God on Judgment Day, I could be the one proven totally wrong and they could be the ones esteemed for standing for what they believe to be true despite criticisms from people like me. Even now, as I type this, my heart is hurting for these men because I wish them no ill. I respect them and love them to this day. But I do think they are leading a whole bunch of my Lord’s sheep astray…and for this, I must speak out. I do it because I love Jesus so much that I am willing to risk being ostracized by former friends who may or may not still be a part of these churches and the PDI movement, because again, my hope is that the truth will set them free eventually!
I have many stories but I will spare you the details. Let me just say that I have seen family after family who have been “banished” from these churches and this PDI movement simply because they had different ideas…different approaches…and different perspectives from the leaders. If you weren’t banished, then you were simply looked upon as not living by” the strict standards of the church” and therefore, treated differently.
Here are just some examples: At CLC, my best friend, when she was pregnant, was looking for a part-time job within the church but was told that her place was in the home now that she was expecting. When her child and my child were ready to enter school, I can’t tell you how many of our church friends fully expected us to home-school and were almost looked down upon when we decided to put them in public school. At ALCC, a friend told me that she was told by church leaders that they did not have “permission” to marry because they didn’t know each other long enough and the guy was not a strong believer–they were told that if they were to “disobey” the church’s directives, they would be asked to leave. Another dear friend simply pointed out a truth to me (that my sister-in-law, Che Ahn’s wife, was a little cold, detached and uncaring as a pastor’s wife). Following what the bible says about correction, I went to her directly, pointing out that there were those in the congregation who felt she needed to be more warm and compassionate, and she immediately told her husband. He then insisted that I tell him who this “slanderer” was and the next thing I know, she and her husband are kicked out from the church and she is branded a “witch.” I was not allowed to speak to her ever again–no one in the church could.
The most personal and painful thing that happened though was when I told my pastor and brother-in-law about being sexually abused as a child, I was pretty much told that since I was a new creation, the things of the past could no longer hurt me. When I showed the bruises to my pastor’s wife and sister-in-law where my husband (her brother) had physically hurt me–I was told not to tell the police because that would bring “shame” to the family and the church. And when I finally went through my divorce because I could no longer live a lie–pretending to be the “perfect Christian wife” while being mentally, emotionally and physically abused by my “perfect Christian husband”–only a handful of true friends from my church were truly there for me.
I’ll be honest. For 10 years after my divorce, I walked away from the straight and narrow. Oh I still went to church (I found an awesome church, by God’s grace, where I eventually found healing but it wasn’t till much later that I really took up my calling again as a servant of Christ)…but my heart was not in it anymore. I was so disillusioned by it all. I spent so many years of giving myself to these churches and to this PDI movement…and now that I was hurting, no one was there for me. So I rebelled, I did things I should not have done…I was, for all practical purposes, a backslidden Christian. I never completely turned my back on God though. I still raised my children to love and honor Him. But my heart was far away.
But, thanks be to God, through the help of godly counselors and therapists, I am healed and whole once more. I love the verse: “He who is forgiven much, loves much” because ever since I repented and returned to the Lord as a prodigal daughter, I have experienced His love and mercy to a degree I never could as a “pretend Christian.” I am again an active part of my local church and every Sunday, I am now one of the leaders of an amazing ministry that goes into the darkest streets of Los Angeles in Skid Row, feeding the poor and spreading the gospel, one on one. Many of the homeless people I meet are backslidden Christians, hurting, hungry and lost–while the self-satisfied shepherds of this city look the other way.
Let me say again…I honestly feel that CJ, Larry and Che feel that they are not doing anything wrong. They truly feel that this is the way to raise authentic Christians who are alive with the passion for Christ and His gospel. Again, let me say that they could be right and I could be wrong. I just now, for me, it didn’t work out that way. I had to find true love, acceptance and forgiveness in the arms of others who didn’t judge me, who didn’t condemn me for having my own opinions, and who truly loved me and cared enough about me to see me become whole and healed again when I was in so much pain. They didn’t abandon me in my hour of need.
Today, I don’t have to pretend. I have close Christian friends who are church leaders who know everything about me and still love me. I do the same for them. I am a public high school teacher who reaches out to students with God’s love and I find that some Christian youth I meet who were home-schooled in elementary school are the most rebellious at times.
Let me end by saying, I thank these men for many foundational truths that they taught me…for giving me a hunger for God’s Word…and I choose to take the good and leave the bad. I truly have no anger or bitterness towards them and I forgive them. We are, after all, just imperfect sinners with imperfect doctrines. We only “know in part” but someday we shall be “fully known.”
When that day comes, my only hope is that I will be fully known as someone who learned to truly love…and not one who simply expected others to perform to my own “godly standards.”
Blessings and peace,
I haven’t revealed much of my story, and it doesn’t warrant the horror of the sexual abuse victims involved in the lawsuit. However, I read and understand exactly how and why parents accepted the church’s stance on these abuses, because I did the same thing in a different way.
When we came to SGM (then PDI, the original), my husband was caught up in living a very ungodly life including multiple counts of adultery. I was encouraged to win him over with my silent, submissive spirit. I tried very hard to do this, including much prayer, fasting, and worship. One day he “felt the Holy Spirit” enter him and gave his life to the Lord. I was so relieved, as were our children, that our family would finally be healed, as we had suffered numerous separations. He confessed to me all of his past infidelities. My heart was ripped to pieces, but through counseling at the church, I was made to see how sin was sin and I needed to forgive him and he needed to forgive me. God’s best, I was told, was that we be reconciled and forgive one another. All sin was equal. There was no room for my feelings, and somehow every time I walked out of there the focus seemed to be on how I needed to change.
Two years later, my husband got into another affair, this time producing a child. I wasn’t told that I had to reconcile with him, nor was I released to divorce him. I was instructed to seek God for an answer. Understand here is where the system speaks for itself. There is no glory or redemption seen in divorce (or there wasn’t at the time), so the unspoken pressure, if you’re to live up to the SGM family model, is to overcome the sin of the partner through forgiveness. There’s no mention of forgiving but moving forward in a manner consistent with the destruction a spouse has done.
I forgave my spouse, and we moved away from SGM. This ultimately was a great thing, because I stopped expecting him to live up to that model and he stopped cheating. However, I went away believing in a God who neither cared about my feelings or truly loved me, as He sovereignly allowed all of these things to happen to me when he could have prevented them. I was depressed and suicidal, but remember, it was a sin to seek outside professional help. I couldn’t get counseling or medical treatment. The problem had to be rooted in sin–my sin, and I needed my self-confrontational manual to dig it out.
When anger and resentment finally dared to surface, I filed for a divorce. I walked away from God, committed adultery, and did attempt to end my life, ending up in an ICU with my husband by my side. From that point on, he endeavored to love me like Jesus, religion aside. It took quite a while, but he became that husband that SGM men ought to endeavor to be. For him, it isn’t a role he’s playing in order to live up to the image, rather it’s laying his life down in order to treat me as his own body. I’m happy about that, and I’m thankful for him. Why then, do I still resent SGM’s spoken and unspoken pressure to be in faith for my marriage? Because it was without compassion toward my feelings and experiences. I was the one constantly having to strive to do what they themselves didn’t know a thing about, but would they would learn through future generations of their own. I resent that I wasn’t told that God was as faithful and redemptive in divorce as he was in marriage….like I had to make the miracle happen with my unswerving faith. I resent that I was taught that spanking my children would change their hearts, and that living the formula would produce godly offspring. I now have godly offspring because God was faithful in my giving up on the formula. I was on a leave-of-absence from my faith for the three years following my departure from SGM, yet my children began to thrive when I stopped seeing only the sin in them and started enjoying them as the individuals God had created them to be. I adore them now, whereas before, I saw nothing but the sin I needed to weed out in order to keep them out of hell.
It’s all grace, I know that now. I’m still healing from the legalism and the formulas I absorbed. I truly don’t think they understand the hierarchy they create in their polity. Their own lack of willingness to honestly communicate true and deep failure works to hold themselves up in front of wives whose husbands’ real and deep failures seem so pathetic by comparison. So many wives have confessed to me their habits of comparing their husbands to the leaders, with the husbands coming up short.
When will they realize they are not serving the members while holding onto their pride. When will they say, “I stand up here and pretend to be more than I am so that you will revere me, yet I work to lower your view of who you are and who your family members are in Christ”? That’s what I want to see. Tear down the pedestals. Look for God’s redeeming grace in failure as much as you do success. Understand that we are doing our best to live godly lives in a fallen world, and for Pete’s sake, stop expecting us to be perfect in what we say or do, and how we deal with our concerns with you. Listen. Hear us. And consider, truly consider, coming off your prideful pedestal and repenting for the mistakes of the past.