Brent’s Latest, A Question About The Pastor Assignment Process, And One Member’s Message To The SGM Board

October 28, 2011 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Brent Detwiler put up a new post on his blog yesterday.  In it, he shared a lengthy string of emails he had exchanged with a number of Sovereign Grace Ministries pastors.  I believe Mr. Detwiler wanted to illustrate many of these pastors’ unfair and occasionally insulting responses to his request that they all write to the SGM board and ask that the board reconsiders entering into an adjudication process with Brent.

(Almost lost in the shuffle of the childish put-downs was the apparent development that after asking repeatedly for certain other conditions for the adjudication with the Ambassadors of Reconciliation and being turned down, Brent has now requested that he be permitted to accept the SGM board’s original terms for adjudication…but now the SGM board won’t agree to the terms that they had initially offered.)

In my opinion, those email exchanges make no one look good.  Brent seems clueless for seeking support from guys who have everything to lose and nothing to gain in going to bat for him. And some of these other pastors are showing themselves to be patronizing and mean-spirited in their replies.

While I can sympathize with Brent’s dogged determination to seek some vindication, it’s starting to seem like an unfortunate side show that distracts from the solid facts buried in his documents.

The SGM board and the Ambassadors of Reconciliation ought to do everybody a favor and agree to the adjudication process they’d originally offered Brent.  If it was good enough for them a month or two ago, I can’t imagine why it’s not good enough now, especially if Brent is now willing to go with their terms.

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On another topic, last night a reader asked a very good question about the pastor selection/assignment process.  “Sick With Worry” wrote,

This is a little off topic, but I am curious to know how pastors are chosen, moved around, or relocated. I am not referring to the “Shankings”, but the moves conducted from church to church. This may not be a big deal or any different than some other denominations.

I responded,

I’m not sure if anyone here really knows precisely how these decisions are made.

We know there is basically no input from the membership. If I had to make a semi-educated guess, based upon observing the Shankings and other de-giftings, it would appear that hirings and firings happen at the discretion of the regional apostles (or whatever title they go by now), along with some (and occasionally a LOT of) input from SGM Headquarters.

The thing about this is, how SGM does these things would really make no difference at all, if the procedures and the REAL relationship between individual churches and Headquarters were fully and freely openly disclosed. If SGM wants to model their polity after the Catholic church, or some combination of a Catholic structure and the way that pastor-owned-and-operated Charismatic churches run things, that’s their business. I think a good case can be made for various types of church governance.

The problem, though, arises in that SGM Corporate is NOT forthcoming and clear about its governing relationship with the local franchises. Check out how SGM describes itself on the SGM website:

We are a family of churches passionate about advancing the Great Commission through church planting. In support of that mission we facilitate partnerships among pastors, operate a Pastors College, host events, and publish books, music, and other resources.

There’s absolutely no HINT of the fact that SGM Corporate has made decisions (or “strong suggestions”) about hirings and firings on the local level. For instance, I’ve heard through several sources now that Steve Whitacre will likely be placed as senior pastor at New Covenant Church, where he preached a week or two ago. It would appear as though this church (which is becoming part of SGM through a “replant” of an existing church) is essentially being told that this is happening. Or that it has been strongly suggested to them that they call Mr. Whitacre…”suggested” in such a way where – since they are clearly desiring to be part of SGM – they really cannot choose any other course of action.

Like everything else that is dysfunctional with SGM, the problems arise with the secrecy, the lack of clarity, and the downright deception that we can see in the likes of SGM’s vague mission statement that gives us NO CLUE about how they weigh in on decisions at the local level.

On this same topic, reader “Persona” had this to say:

One humorous aside to this topic is something I noticed on the New Covenant (Arnold) website. They say that there is a ‘pastoral selection team’ formed of three lay persons and guess what? – two of the three appear to be women!

I had to chuckle as I imagined how John Loftness and CJ were going to navigate that one. They have to somehow convince the panel that it is really their decision to appoint Steve Whitacre to the much-coveted position of senior pastor of their church. Somehow, I have the feeling, there will be a few ruffled feathers in that church, during the process of making it into a genuine SG church.

I think they have no idea what they’re getting themselves into. Here is a snippet from a Q&A that came out of New Covenant’s July 4 family meeting:

Q: Will there still be ongoing Pastoral Search Team (PST) efforts at this time?

A: We do not want to have parallel efforts at this time, so the role of the PST has changed. They will still be responsible for leading the prayer effort and coordinating with the congregation; however, we are not searching outside of SGM for a pastor.

Q: Will we interview the person John Loftness selects?

A: Yes, we feel that we should be able to interview this person and be an integral part of the selection process. SGM and NCC want to find the person who has the right skills as well as being a good “fit.”

Q: Are we currently interviewing anyone?

A: Not outside of SGM.

Q: So SGM is picking a pastor?

A: This is a joint effort. We will ensure that the person presented by SGM is indeed a good fit for us.

Elsewhere in the family meeting notes, they describe their current relationship with SGM as akin to being in a courtship – in other words, they are committed to SGM but nothing has been made official yet.

Anyone want to predict what would happen to that “courtship” if the Pastoral Search Team were to be anything but a rubber stamp for John Loftness’ pick for senior pastor?

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Finally, reader “Michael” shared with us in a comment that he had sent the following to the Sovereign Grace Ministries board:

I was in a Sovereign Grace church for over 20 years, long enough to remember back when the ministry was called People of Destiny International. I chose to leave that church this year for reasons involving differences in doctrine and vision, months before I heard anything about C.J. Mahaney having charges brought against him, but I must say that the present crisis SGM now faces solidifies my decision to leave.

You have hurt people tremendously over the years by the way that you have conducted yourselves, and you persist in trying to manage this ministry of churches as some sort of business. While C.J. Mahaney has definitely led SGM in ways that are hurtful, and he has sinned in ways that a man who speaks so much about humility should have no problem retiring over, this is not merely about C.J. He is only a part of a broken, dysfunctional system. Your vision is not to spread the gospel, but to spread your own gospel–a culture that is part and parcel with faith in the Savior, a functional synergism.

What is most disturbing to me is how dismissive the SGM board has been not merely of Brent Detwiler, but of the hundreds of people who have left SGM because of how they’ve been hurt by leaders within it and by the system in general. Do you understand how demeaning it is to hear that your testimony will be “evaluated” rather than listened to? Do you understand that people who say they have been wounded by you are not necessarily going to be prepared to come to you graciously? Do you understand that you appear to be more interested in protecting respective shepherds than protecting their flocks?

I would challenge you to read through Luke 19:37-40, and meditate on that if you truly desire to cultivate humility. I would also challenge you to lay down your preconceptions of what “your” ministry is about: so many churches have already walked through these sorts of issues across history, and your desire to be unique is poisoning the way that you could be building up the Church. Consider that this is a time to reevaluate your building’s foundation, lest you try to continue to build and find it all crashing down on you.

© 2011, Kris. All rights reserved.