Interesting Interview With A Sovereign Grace Ministries Pastor

August 5, 2008 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Alert reader “Kindred Spirit” sent me the link to an interview with a Sovereign Grace Ministries pastor (Mickey Connolly, Senior Pastor, CrossWay Community Church).  I thought it might prove an interesting read for people here.  The way I see it, Mr. Connolly makes some very revealing statements, statements that are prime examples of the methods and attitudes employed by SGM, the very methods and attitudes that have brought about websites like this very one.

The interview appears below in its entirety.  My thoughts are in blue italics.

Steve: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mickey: I’m 58 years old. Married to Jane for 36 years. Three children – two married daughters and a son in college.

I was saved when I was 28 years old. Soon felt a call to pastoral ministry. Started serving full time in 1984. Currently serve as Senior Pastor of Crossway Community Church in Charlotte, NC. We are a Sovereign Grace Church. I also continue to help lead our Parent/Youth ministry.

Steve: You mentioned Sovereign Grace Church. What encourages you most about is happening in SG churches?

Mickey: One of our goals from the very outset has been to pass on what we have learned to the next generation. I have been very encouraged to see this next generation begin to marry, have children of their own and take their place in local SGM churches serving and leading in a variety of ways.  [Kris says:  What if the next generation were NOT serving in local SGM churches?  What if instead they were active members of Po-Dunk First Baptist Church?  Would that mean that the parents had somehow failed in their job to pass on “what they’ve learned”?  What, exactly, have they learned? – that the Christian faith is only truly “done right” if it’s done within the context of SGM?  Sure sounds like that to me!]   Through Sovereign Grace’s pastors’ college we are also seeing many young men being trained for and released in full-time ministry as church planters and local church pastors. We are in the beginning stages of many of our older senior pastors (myself included) turning over church to younger men and coming along side them to mentor them through the process. Nothing is more encouraging to me at the time than this.

Steve: Who would SG churches feel is to be the primary disciplers of children/teens?

Mickey: In a word, parents. Ephesians 6:4 is pretty clear – fathers (as the head of the household but not excluding mothers) bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. The Biblical word for children means any child still living under their parent’s roof so the parent’s responsibility as prime discipler doesn’t end at a certain age (e.g. when they go to high school or college).

[Kris says:  It would have been helpful here if Pastor Mickey had explained exactly which “Biblical word for children” he’s referring to. But even if he can back up his vague statement with specifics from the Greek language, I find it interesting that – because of what I now know about SGM – Mr. Connolly is actually talking about two different things.  He uses the term “discipler,” which is a good term.  But if you’re involved in SGM long enough, you will be subjected to a “bait and switch” tactic.  Soon you will find that in the SGM world, “discipler” becomes synonymous with “ruler.”

The reality of SGM’s approach to youth is NOT really about being a discipler of one’s children.  Rather, SGM has become fixated on teaching parents to CONTROL their kids – even their fully adult “kids” – with attendant punishments and consequences for parents if they are perceived to have failed at this task.  (This is evidenced by Benny Phillips’ very public “season of correction” for his adult daughter’s rebellion by eloping with a young man who had not been properly vetted through the courtship system…as well as Larry T’s ouster…as well as SGM parents’ current efforts to orchestrate their young adult “children’s” lives.)

The confusion stems, I think, from viewing the whole role of “discipler” in terms of using one’s parental authority to FORCE or COERCE a child into behaving like the person you think God wants him to be.

(Come to think of it, this mentality overshadows ALL of SGM, not just their views on parenting.  SGM views its pastoral leadership in this same way.  In the Sovereign Grace world, your leaders “disciple” you by coercing you into behaving the way they think a “truly biblical” Christian ought to behave.)   

And the notion that parents should ALWAYS be held accountable for the choices of their children (no matter how old said “children” are) is simply NOT in the Bible.  I can think of many instances in the Bible where “kids” still lived under their father’s roof and yet were held accountable for their actions, while their parents were NOT held accountable…kids like Jacob’s sons, who sold their brother Joseph into slavery. 

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with parents viewing themselves as the disciplers of their children.  That’s a good thing.  But for the uninitiated reader of this interview, this discussion could be very misleading, especially if one does not understand how “discipler” in the SGM world actually equates to “boss” and “ruler,” NOT just someone who takes the lead in teaching a child about the Christian faith.]

The local church has a supplemental role in this process, e.g. teens are to be listening to and applying preaching and teaching like any other church member and are to be equipped for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4) like any other church member, but the parents role is primary and shouldn’t be abdicated or delegated to anyone else (pastor, youth group leader, children’s ministry).

Steve: How does this shape practically the way that your church operates?

Mickey: Several ways…

We have what I believe is an excellent children’s ministry. Our youth ministry is Parent/Youth – all meetings and activities are attended by both.  We have a foundations course for parenting that we require each member to take (I am currently working on a course for parenting teens) – we see one of our primary roles as training parents. We have children 12 and above attend small group meetings with their parents.

Steve: Many senior pastors across the country feel that parents will not embrace this God-given role as primary disciplers and therefore have given up on it being a reality. What would you say to those pastors?  [Kris says:  This question feels like a convenient set-up for Mr. Connolly to plug SGM’s parent-controlled approach to youth ministry.  I cannot imagine that “many senior pastors” honestly believe that parents have given up their “God-given role as primary disciplers.”  I don’t buy it, not for a moment.  Maybe SOME church-going parents have a more uninvolved, laissez faire attitude toward parenting, but the majority of Christian moms and dads still see themselves as fully responsible for nurturing their teens and have no desire to abdicate this responsibility.  Most Christian parents I know expend a lot of time and effort taking their teens to church youth events.  Matter of fact, most of these parents see this as something they’re doing in their role of “discipler.”

Attending a traditional youth group and being “discipled” by one’s parents are NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE ACTIVITIES!  One can be involved in a “regular” youth program, away from one’s parents for a couple of hours per week, and still be actively discipled by one’s parents!

I find it so intriguing how SGM does this – they set up a false crisis with statements like, “Parents have given up on their role as primary disciplers of their children.”  And then they proceed to offer up their special SGM solution (parent-controlled youth ministry).  Yet the original statement is simply NOT TRUE, not for the majority of Christian parents out there!]

Mickey: I understand the challenge here and sympathize but…

1. We have to start with the scriptures not the difficulties and scripture is abundantly clear that this is the parents’ responsibility.

2. It may be a process, but I would challenge those senior pastors to develop biblical convictions [Kris says:  Ah, the loaded language.  What he really means when he says “biblical convictions” here is, “the convictions that SGM has developed about this subject.”] in this regard and then begin to plan how to envision, motivate and equip parents to fulfill this role. I think it is particularly important for parents to understand that God is going to give them abundant grace to do what He has called them to do.

3. I think it is also important that pastors help parents to see the heart motivations behind their lack of involvement and faith in this area. Paul Tripp’s book Age of Opportunity (P&R) has two excellent chapters (1-2) on this topic. Where there are sinful motivations, then help parents to repent and make appropriate changes. Changes that simply focus on behavior will never be lasting; only a changed heart will result in lasting fruit.

Steve: How do you feel the parents in your congregation are responding to this message?

Mickey: I wish you could interview our parents to hear their testimonies. They are overwhelmingly positive. Parents love this type of ministry. It is not without challenges and resistance from their kids but that is not surprising given that both parents and teens are sinners.  [Kris says:  Since when is a teenager’s NORMAL DEVELOPMENTAL DESIRE for a little bit of independence and space automatically the evidence of sin?  Since when is it “sinful” or wrong to want to spend an hour or two per week AWAY from one’s parents at a Christian youth group, learning from some other mature Christian (such as a youth pastor)?  I was exceedingly blessed by different youth ministries when I was growing up.  How could the desire for those things automatically be wrong?  Where does the Bible say this?  (The truth is, the BIBLE DOES NOT SAY THIS!)  This is, yet again, something that SGM has extrapolated from cherry-picked Bible passages.

For instance, SGM completely ignores the instance in the Bible, one of the few specific anecdotes from Jesus’ own youth, where he ditches Mary and Joseph and hangs out in the temple.  If one uses SGM logic – that all desires for spiritual experiences independent of one’s parents are sinful – then they’d be forced to conclude that even Jesus Himself sinned! ] But, at the end of the day, the fruit in their relationship with their teens and the fruit in their children’s lives are what every parent longs to have. And it is my experience that the stronger the relationship between the parent and teen-aged child, the easier it will be to weather and walk through the inevitable storms that come with raising children. Relationship and involvement are key.

Steve: It is tough to become a pastor at a SG church. Can you share the process and the theology behind this practice?

Mickey: Most of the pastors in SG churches are raised up from within, either having grown up in the church or having come and attended for a while. This gives us the opportunity both to observe and help cultivate character and to give opportunities to serve in ways that test gift and calling. (Character is the number one qualification for ministry and gift/calling aren’t obtained through education but grace. Education equips- it doesn’t gift) 

[Kris says:  I’d like to know how Mr. Connolly defines “character.”  I think it’s interesting how, from so many stories on this site, we know that in SGMville, “character” is equated with an individual’s willingness to submit everything to the leaders in authority over the individual.  Keeping that in mind, the hidden message behind this qualification of “character” for entering SGM’s pastorate is actually that a man who wants to be a pastor has to have a long enough history with his SGM authorities so that they can know that he will tow the SGM line and submit to those above him.]

Once we determine that a man has a genuine gift/calling and proven (though not perfect) character and that we have a place for that man to serve, we send them to our pastor’s college. Pastor’s College is a ten month intensive training in doctrine and character.  

[Kris says:  Again with the “character.”  How do you train someone in “character,” and how does the Pastors’ College curriculum train its men in “character”?  What sort of “character”-building exercises do they have these guys engage in?  From what we’ve gleaned about the mysterious curriculum at the PC, we know that there are guest lecturers, some regular courses for practical pastoral knowledge, some study of Greek and Hebrew and sermon preparation, and then a WHOLE LOT OF FOCUS on the discipleship relationships that the PC powers-that-be set up for each pastoral candidate and his wife.

Someone – I can no longer remember who it was – talked about going through intense sessions with their pastor and his wife, in preparation for attending the PC.  They were expected to share EVERYTHING about themselves and their marriage, all their most minute flaws and sins.  This training continues while in the PC.  Another source who is very much on the inside of SGM has related how each pastoral candidate, along with his wife, is paired up with a CLC pastor and wife and is put through more intense “mentoring” just like that.  By the time they are done at PC, there is NOTHING that the candidate and his wife would have been able to keep hidden.  They are completely and thoroughly submitted to their leaders.  They are broken.

At the end of PC, we usually bring the guy back to the sending church (though at times we may have them go to another church where there is a greater need – always with the guy being in faith for this) to serve an internship. At the end of this proving time we would ordain them as a pastor.

The above is the norm; however there are times when we go outside the box.

Steve: Share with us this practice has helped your churches understanding of what a pastor is?

Mickey: I think the most important elements are the emphasis that all ministry and particularly pastoral ministry is character based.  [Kris says:  Not to beat a dead horse, but WHO GETS TO DEFINE WHAT CHARACTER MEANS, and how?  Who gets to decide and judge who has “character” and who does not?] The other important element is that calling should be more than just an individual’s subjective sense but should be something that is confirmed and proven in the context of a local church.

Steve: Many guys I meet feel they can’t minister to families because they are serving in churches that must produce numbers (attendance and baptisms). What is the main hope you have for your church body?

[Kris says:  Here we go again, with a very odd leading question that contains a false statement, an assumption that simply is not true.  Either this Steve guy’s experiences have been vastly different than mine, or he’s making something up in order to give Mr. Connolly a platform to once again expound upon SGM’s particular approach. 

I have NEVER HEARD OF a church – especially not a numbers-conscious “seeker friendly” church – that feels they “can’t minister to families” because they’re worried about attendance.  If anything, the truth is the exact opposite.  Seeker-friendly churches (churches that are interested in increasing their attendance numbers) have discovered (as have the Mormons – just check out their commercials sometime!) that family concerns are a MAJOR reason why people turn to religion.  This is why so many seeker-oriented churches host “divorce recovery” classes, why they pump millions of dollars into building beautiful facilities for their children’s ministries, why they have so many Bible studies and classes for parents and married couples.  The marketing gurus found out a long time ago that your average “unchurched Harry” will gravitate toward ministries that emphasize the family.

So either the interviewer has met some very unusual pastors, or else he is spinning his experience to feed Mr. Connolly a convenient question so that he is nicely set up to pontificate about SGM’s ideas about family.]

Mickey: I am deeply grieved that this question even needs to be asked…

[Kris says:  Mr. Connolly is right to be grieved, because this is a question that does NOT need to be asked.  It’s an artificial, twisted question!]

First, if we take seriously the Biblical qualifications for pastors, his ability to manage his household is of prime importance.

[Kris says:  Ah yes, it’s good to plug one of SGM’s best “selling points.”  It just occurred to me, as I was reading this article, that SGM is quite smart in continually trumpeting how their pastors lead such pretty, scrubbed lives.

While I am not in ANY way trying to put down the absolutely biblical command for a church leader to have his household in order and to live righteously, after awhile this continual harping on “character” and orderly households starts to feel suspiciously like a marketing ploy.

If it IS a marketing ploy, it’s a very clever one.  It seems like CJ (or the other SGM powers-that-be) have tapped into a very real concern among your average Christian today.  We’ve all seen far too many pastors with families that are messed up, pastors who have committed adultery, or who have been bad stewards of God’s money, or engaged in any number of sinful lifestyle choices.  SGM is very smart for hammering away at the idea that THEIR pastors have character, THEIR pastors have their families “in order.”

This again reminds me of how the Mormons market their church – they focus a great deal of attention on the wholesome, scrubbed image of their people.  By directing SO MUCH attention on their pastors’ lives and families, SGM does the exact same thing.]

Second, pastor is a role that God has called a man to within the larger context of being a Christian man. Pastoring can’t define our lives. Our first priority is our relationship with God and care for our own souls. Our second priority is care for our families. Neither can be sacrificed on the altar of pastoral success. I think every pastor must cultivate this conviction and must teach their churches the same. A local church should be encouraging their pastors to attend to their homes (and senior pastors should be insisting that their staffs do the same).

Third, a pastor’s example as a husband and father is one of the most powerful ways he can serve people. Paul instructs Timothy to watch his life and doctrine carefully and by doing so he will save both himself and his hearers. A man’s family life is a critical part of fulfilling this command. (My personal experience and the experience of every man on our staff is that we are regularly thanked and encouraged for the example we provide here – understanding of course that our example is not a perfect one; we remain sinners.)

[Kris says:  Does anyone else join me in seeing how this is likely one of the root causes of the SGM cloning that many have observed?  If pastors go into the pastorate with the idea that their responsibility is to model behavior that is therefore to be imitated, and if they also are indoctrinated with the idea that their own “character” is all about how much they in turn imitate the leaders above them, then it’s little wonder that in the end, SGM has such a very culturally-specific concept of what “character” (and consequently the Christian life) look like.  Everybody looks like CJ and Carolyn, and everybody attempts to run his family in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY.  And then they slap on the “biblical” label and think they’re superior.]

Fourth, I think the question misses a larger point. The success of a pastor is not to be measured primarily in numbers but in the maturity of the people he serves – what kind of people he is “producing” not how many. In fact a focus on numbers is often the seed bed of temptation to compromise the message of the gospel. I tell our pastors here that faithfulness to our calling is all that we can control and that if we will be faithful, God will take care of the fruitfulness.

Steve: If you sat beside a 22 year old man on a plane today who told you he “wanted to become a pastor,” what are a few things that you would encourage him with?

Mickey: I would tell him to do three things. First, find the local church that God wants you to be a part of and commit yourself wholeheartedly.  [Kris says:  Call me cynical, but given Mr. Connolly’s concept of what it means to have been a successful SGM parent – where your kids grow up to attend and serve at their “local SGM church” – I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Connolly would not feel intense pressure to make sure the hypothetical 22-year-old on the plane would also attend an SGM church!] Two, cultivate your personal relationship with God and your character. Three, begin to serve faithfully and trust God to promote you. (This doesn’t mean that a man can’t express his desire – Paul says it is a good desire – but that he must trust God and the men around him to bring him into his calling.)

And I think I would talk to him about the all importance of humility. Get his address and send him a copy of CJ Mahaney’s book Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah).  [Kris says:  Oh, HUGE shock here!  Give him a Mahaney book!  Please help me, stewardess, I can’t find my airsick bag!] And, I would have him read Mark 10:35-45 [Kris says:  Note how Mahaney came first and the Bible came as a second thought] and meditate on it every day because here Jesus both instructs and models what true Biblical leadership is all about.  [Kris says:  Jesus both instructs and models…but read Mahaney first!]

*******END OF INTERVIEW*******

Kris here again:

I hope everyone understands that I do believe that Mr. Connolly DOES say a lot of good stuff in this interview.  That’s the problem across the board with the Sovereign Grace approach to Christianity – there IS so much “good stuff” to be had.  If there weren’t, then we all wouldn’t have been attracted to our SGM churches to begin with.

But as Jesus says, “It only takes a little leaven…”

© 2008, Kris. All rights reserved.