Responding To The Question Of Strengths And Weaknesses…

July 24, 2011 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

The last post here generated so many really good responses to this question, which was submitted by someone who is currently a pastor at a Sovereign Grace Ministries church:

From your vantage point what are the primary weaknesses within SGM?

Do you see any strengths?

I thought it would be good to continue the discussion.  Here’s one comment (from “Not Again”) that struck me as particularly comprehensive:

I already wrote a long post about problems with our leadership. Even the terminology bugs me a little. It starts sounding more like we are talking about a labor vs. management business dispute with corporate headquarters instead of believers addressing sin and error among our elders.

Here is a short list of specific problems:

Focus on the work of Christ more than a relationship with Jesus

Focus on crucifix/Cross vs. empty cross and empty tomb

Continual focus on indwelling sin vs. indwelling Christ

Status as sinners, lowly worms vs. saints of God, beloved by the Father

Obsession with right doctrine and practice (valuable) over life in the Spirit (essential)

Making the ‘main’ thing the ONLY thing vs. going on to maturity (Hebrews 6:1,2)

Introspection (me and my sin) vs. Outreach (Jesus to the world)

‘Serving the church’ vs. serving the Lord
The means has become the end. Instead of the church existing to serve the Lord, build up His people, and reach the world, now His people exist to serve the church, the Lord is all about the local church, and the world can be saved by coming to our SGM church.

Pigeon-holing people into hierarchical ‘roles’ instead of receiving them as equal and uniquely-gifted individuals

Stepford conformity vs. beautiful, Spirit-led I Cor. 12 diversity

Hypercontrol and micromanagement. Grown adults needing permission to start a Bible study or a mercy ministry?

Care group as performance review and group-think exercise instead of Bible study and, you know, actual care

Ingrown elitism vs. honoring Jesus as Lord of His universal Church –

 ‘We’re not saying we’re better, really. It’s just that, well, everybody needs what we have.’ Our doctrine, our practice, our music, our books, our insider jargon, our interpretation of what Christian living looks like, our conferences, our way of doing youth group, our approach to community, our gender roles and rules, (modesty checklists and courtship questions, multiple tops and regulated purse straps, blank countertops and no junk drawers, bouncing eyes and remote control committees), etc. Our way is so wonderful, it would ‘serve’ you never to move away from SGM, never even to go to college away from SGM, never to marry outside of SGM, and not really to hang around with anyone from SGM unless ‘intentionally’ to bring them in to SGM.

Loaded language. Coded group lingo. Words twisted from their true meanings. Redefining “gossip.” “slander,” “pride,” “humility,” “serve,” etc. in ways that stifle truth. Rewriting God’s priorities for Him.

Marketing vs. Ministry –

Planting churches in desirable upper-middle class neighborhoods vs. going into all the world, even to the least of these.

Planting churches in neighborhoods already full of churches so as to steal the sheep who are itching for our niche distinctives.

SGM only works (where it has worked) because it is populated by Christians whose lives are working fairly well. It is probably inadequate for hearty, full-fledged missions. The typical SGM way of doing things would be laughed at and tossed on its ear by people on the bottom rungs of society who’ve been on the receiving end of enough baloney and power trips to know it when they see it. I expect SGM would get its hiney handed to it in an inner city setting. Nice, polite corporate-types will play the game, but the regular person on the street will say, “I smell BS!”

Arrogance passing for and boasting of humility

STOP the encouragement of hero worship. (Yes, it is encouraged, and it could easily be ended if those at the top wanted it to be.)

STOP already with the ridiculous kowtowing and genuflecting to our esteemed leaders when they take the stage! It’s like, “I’ll kiss yours if you’ll kiss mine.” Yuck. What a misapplication of honor where honor is due.

STOP promoting and sending to Pastors College malleable young ‘golden boys’ with the need to please and the urge to climb the corporate ladder.

STOP also with heaping profuse public praise on those who fit the mold and advance the brand — good-looking, dressed-just-right, late-twenties/mid-thirties couples with an acceptable professional income and 2.8 adorable children (more to follow) who adore the pastors and ‘serve the church’.

This all functions as a social control tactic which reinforces the clergy/laity gap. It lays a snare for the feet of those being flattered and causes the lesser-esteemed sheep to fall into line and try harder to please and fit the mold so they, too, might one day be worthy of a pat on the head and an ‘atta boy’ before men.

Deceit, manipulation, and hypocrisy vs. truth, respect, and honor –

STOP with the closed-door, ‘secret-club’ stuff where leaders decide what is best for the lowly sheep and then sneak it in subtly or stomp into town and pronounce it a done deal, whammo, and all the churches suddenly switch. (What do the leaders base these decisions on anyway? Their impressions? Their whims? Their latest readings? The current trends and winds of doctrine? What’s selling? What just bit them in the rear? God’s Word? Who knows?)

STOP with changing what was wrong without ever acknowledging that it was wrong or taking steps to make amends.

STOP saying everyone is a sinner whose heart cannot be trusted, and then giving leaders a get-out-of-accountability-free card.

STOP the rank nepotism and cronyism.

STOP the use of SGM funds for suspect purposes: buying favor and position (a la the CJ/Mohler sweetheart deal), hiring relatives over people of greater merit (looking at you, C.J), allowing the leaders to mutually set their own salaries and benefits, allowing the key players to double-and triple-dip by being on church payroll, SGM payroll, and on the speaking circuit as well, using time and travel paid (at least indirectly) by we the people to write a few sermons they give over and over, to enrich their own coffers while grievously, almost criminally neglecting the ministry entrusted to their care. (And the ‘almost’ in that last sentence may be stretching it.)

STOP treating us like we are stupid while flattering us like you care.

STOP deciding we are incapable or disallowed from having a voice in our own affairs, so that you spend untold sums of SGM money (our giving to God) to hire a supposedly-neutral consulting firm to do the church’s business and decide our fate.

STOP jerking us around and spending our money to try to decide whether C.J. is qualified or not. C.J. would just step down voluntarily if he cared about the church and were willing to practice what he says he believes. He is not only unqualified, (being by no stretch of the term “above reproach”) but he has proven by this present state of affairs to be incompetent to lead, as well, as have at least a few others. (Probably Dave Harvey and Steve Shank, for starters.)

STOP pretending like SGM pastors are trained in and know how to counsel or deal with difficult situations while also looking down with suspicion on outside counselors.

STOP pretending SGM pastors know more than everybody else about what can go on in someone’s heart, mind, brain, body, neurochemistry, etc.

STOP thinking that a Biblical admonition and a prayer of forgiveness can always and immediately undo a mental illness or damaged psyche. (SGM doesn’t even believe in prayer for physical healing like we once did, but refuse to recognize a category for mental and emotional/neurological illness, making it all sin.)

STOP making everything about personal sin BY the one having a problem. Why can’t it ever be about having a normal human response to sin done TO the one who is struggling? Try weeping with those who weep before you try scolding them.

Why did you SGM pastors ever revictimize a victim? Why? Really?

Didn’t you ever just want to maybe go take a baseball bat to the offender and break his kneecaps? Or maybe grab the pruning shears? Even a little? Did not a speck of valor and Biblical manhood rise up within you to defend the poor, the weak, the downtrodden, the injured?

It wouldn’t really be your place to brutalize an offender. But it is far worse, a stench to God, to brutalize the wounded.

Most of all, STOP trying to tweak something that was flawed at the outset and now is broken almost beyond repair. Fall on your faces, cry out to God, repent, renounce the unfruitful deeds of darkness, and submit to the dealings of the Lord. Maybe He will repair and restore SGM. Maybe He will crush it. Oh, well. Jesus is still Lord and His Church will do just fine, with or without SGM.

(Okay, maybe not so short a list, after all.)

As we continue the discussion, it would be helpful for those who feel comfortable doing so to share a bit about their history with SGM.  How long have they been (or how long were they) part of the organization?  Which church(es) did they attend?

By the way – Guy and I were out of town this past weekend, with an unexpected lack of internet access.  To all of you who had comments stuck in moderation, I apologize. 


© 2011, Kris. All rights reserved.