Highlights From Covenant Life Church’s Recent Family Meeting

November 18, 2010 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

So, according to some of our readers, Covenant Life Church – SGM’s large flagship congregation in Gaithersburg, Maryland – recently held a “Family Meeting” to provide its members with updates and answer their questions.

While not everything that goes on at CLC is replicated throughout the rest of the congregations within the Sovereign Grace Ministries denomination family of churches, Covenant Life Church nonetheless seems to set the standard for the direction of SGM.  Since a large percentage of SGM’s leaders and policy makers attend CLC, it stands to reason that if something is taught or implemented at CLC, it very likely will rather quickly trickle down to other churches via pastors’ conferences and the influence of the “apostles.”

Also, there is frequently a blurring of the lines between the decisions made for Covenant Life Church and those that are made for the larger Sovereign Grace Ministries entity.

So it’s always interesting to hear what Josh Harris and his cronies are thinking and planning for CLC.  One could almost say that what happens at CLC provides a window into the future for the rest of SGM churches.

Here is one reader’s report on the family meeting: 

Jeff Purswell gave an animated account of how they are “pushing ‘pause'” on the Pastors Colege this year to do much desired work supporting pastors already in service.  And they are deploying Gary and Betsy Riccuci to give marriage seminars in our sister churches.  Jeff will be visiting pastors doing various unspecified things.  And, he says they developed a special curriculum for the 3 North African pastors.  He waxed eloquent on the growth of the Arlington, Frederick, and Australian church plants, how many people were being saved and baptized.

There was no mention about why more students did not apply to the PC this year or what the future use of the PC would be.  Is there possibly a lack of job opportunities for graduates or are finances so slim they can’t apply?  There are still plenty of candidates from newer SG churches who haven’t attended the PC yet.

There was a very long introduction of the 3 pastors CLC is sending back to North Africa.  It seems as though these missionary church planters could be used to show critics like John Piper that SGM does actually have a heart for missions.  But, Sovereign Grace still only plants churches, not individuals.

There was a hand-out that showed a change of policy about church governance.  Sister churches are now somewhat self-governing in such a way that SGM no longer rules 100% over each one and they are more free to make certain decisions without SGM involvement.  CJ still seems to hold a firm control over the leadership of each church, though, so I wonder if the impetus for the new wording is meant to help protect SGM legally.

Josh then assembled a panel of the pastors who lead each CLC ministry, in order to field a selective pile of questions people had sent in.  There was also a brief time of “open mic.”

The questions were interesting.  Some asked about why we no longer pray in tongues in the Sunday gatherings (Josh wants to encourage this but also the interpretation of tongues).

Another question dealt with why youth (under 15 or so) can’t be baptized or take communion.  (Josh says it is ultimately up to the parent).  Another person wanted to know why we tithe 10% if the New Testament doesn’t directly command it (they were told we follow the Old Testament on that, and that they could read more about it in the membership manual).

Actually, the variety and complexity of questions, as well as the fact that Josh “allowed” them, was unique.  But, the pastors seemed unfocused, uncomfortable, and lackluster in their responses.  Perhaps they are just not used to answering random questions or having to answer to the people at all.  Josh was much more prepared to field questions.

Next came the best part:  the open mic.  One new believer from Africa wondered if it would be all right for him to dance before the Lord on Sundays.  (Josh said yes.)  Another wanted to know if women could be encouraged more to get college degrees and careers because women may need to support their families if their husbands are invalid and several at CLC do that now.  (Carolyn has not really encouraged this at all in the past, but Josh says he thinks that’s a good idea.)  Another person wondered why our worship music was so loud.  Someone else asked about the pastors’ personal evangelism strategies.  Josh and the panel looked nonplussed and squirmed.  No one responded.

Apparently they had no personal evangelism strategies.  None!  (Kenneth used to lead the charge in this arena of the church but now that he is an executive pastor, maybe he has less time.)  Another young guy asked, “Where are we going as a church?”  There was a pregnant pause.  It was such a profound question and everyone wondered what Josh would say.  He told the young man that his gifting was not to make 5-10 year plans; he is more focused on the moment and right now he’s focused on prayer.

The best question of the evening came from a long-time member.  He asked if anything was going to change in the area of polity, namely in giving the congregation more say and involvement in big decisions in the church.  He said CLC seemed more Catholic in their polity.  He also asked why had the book on polity been removed from the SGM website?  Josh responded, as he did with most of the controversial questions of the evening, by saying that, “The pastors would discuss this,” but he added that at the moment they were leaning more toward defending their position on elder-driven polity.  The longtime member pushed back and asked him when they would be getting back to him on that question?  No specific time frame was given.

After the Q&A, Josh asked for the podium and his notebook.  He announced that some individuals had come to them bringing up things that need to change in the church, and that because of these suggestions, they have seen fit to change some things (no specifics were given at all).  He also said a group of people also came to them saying they need to apologize for abuses that happened “in the past” at CLC.  Josh said he wants to invite those folks over to his house to talk about the issues and see what can be done.  He also said anyone could be added to that list and possibly be invited to talk to him and a group of pastors in the future.  He did not mention specifics about cases, but it seemed to be his way of recognizing grievances that have been brought up on the blogs, without mentioning the blogs and/or inadvertently encouraging anyone to read them.

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So, folks – there you have it.  That’s what’s new at Covenant Life Church these days.  How many of you ex-SGMers are excited about heading on over to Josh Harris’ house?

© 2010, Kris. All rights reserved.