New Year’s Resolutions For SGM…

January 2, 2012 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Happy 2012, everybody!

It’s a new year, a natural time for new beginnings.  Perhaps even the leadership of Sovereign Grace Ministries is thinking about how 2012 can be better than 2011.  If so, here – in no particular order – are some suggestions for SGM’s list of New Year’s resolutions:

  • Be honest – completely and fully honest – about what you are now, and about what you used to teach, be, and do.  For instance, when a concerned member approaches you and asks in shocked horror whether it’s true that your church once taught single women that they needed to move in with families and “put themselves under the authority” of the husband of the family, don’t let your mind race, trying to wordsmith a response that might make the ugly truth sound better.  Stop, take a deep breath, and simply say, “Yes.  Some years back, SGM followed many of the tenets of the ‘Shepherding Movement,’ which included the Bill Gothard-esque notion of ‘umbrellas of protection.’  We did indeed urge single women to seek out families and submit themselves to the husbands of those families.  We typically talked about such an arrangement as being ‘more wise’ than living on one’s own, but the message was clear enough.”
    .
    Respond in a similarly brutally honest manner to questions about other skeletons in SGM’s closets, too.  Own how you used to openly teach that corporal punishment was pretty much the only “biblical” way to discipline children.  Own the fact that many churches instructed parents on the ins and outs of “glue stick spanking” (because those 12-inch-long sticks for hot-glue guns really hurt but wouldn’t leave telltale marks).  Own that the vast majority of SGM’s leaders bought into the idea that homeschooling was the “wisest” way to education children – and that SGM members were pressured in so many ways to take on the lifestyle choices of their pastors.  Own that SGM used to say openly that wives should not work outside the home…that young people should not pursue college unless they could do so while living at home and maintaining their same level of activity at their local SGM church…that college was not much of a priority for girls, anyway…that members ought to seek out the “wise counsel” of their pastors for all manner of personal decisions (like whom to marry, or whether to take a job promotion and move to another city).  Own that there have been several instances where pastors responded very strangely and inappropriately to situations of child sex abuse – where instead of immediately involving the legal system (as all normal mandatory reporters are taught to do), victims were told to offer instant forgiveness while perpetrators were protected and coddled.
    .
  • Along with taking ownership of the past, realize that it’s not enough to decide behind the scenes as leaders that you missed the boat with a particular teaching or practice and quietly quit promoting it.  Instead, you need to openly and specifically address the areas where you messed up.  Openly and specifically talk about what was wrong with the old teachings or practices.  Explain how – and why – your thinking has changed.
    .
  • Ditch the underlying belief that (despite lots of vague and meaningless chatter from the pulpit about their worthlessness and sinfulness) leaders need to appear at all times to be pretty much above making actual mistakes.  Really, the game is up on this one.  You can say that SGM has had its horizons expanded when it comes to whether or not the organization’s area leaders ought to be called “apostles” or something else.  But the reality is that no matter what you’re calling the Artists-Formerly-Known-As-Apostles these days, SGM still has been trying, in so many ways, to make it seem like these men have some level of special authority and hear directly from God when making decisions.  It’s time for this silliness to stop.  Contrary to what C.J. Mahaney has long taught in his Dearest [Happiest] Place On Earth sermon, pastors and “apostles” (or “regional leaders,” or whatever) don’t actually occupy some special class of believerhood where they are imbued with superior knowledge of and insight into their people’s hearts…or, for that matter, a special ability to be right all the time.
    .
  • Also know that it’s not even enough to address the old teachings and practices once or twice, if they were heavily promoted and have become ingrained in SGM’s culture.  For instance, while it’s great that Josh Harris has acknowledged on a few occasions that his ideas about courtship have caused some problems, a lot more needs to be done to undo literally decades of (once again) Bill Gothard-esque teachings against “dating” (teachings that go back to SGM/PDI’s earliest days, long before Josh Harris was invited to move into C.J.’s basement).
    .
  • While being open and honest about incorrect former teachings, leaders should not attempt to place any blame whatsoever on members.  Please, pastors – don’t stand up there and say things like, “What we taught was misapplied.”  That’s blame-shifting.  If your teaching was “misapplied,” and you let those “misapplications” continue for any length of time, to the point where the extremes hurt people, then YOU are still ultimately responsible.
    .
  • Closely connected with a new openness about incorrect former teachings would be making things right with those who were burned by the old teachings.  If you suspect that you may have disfellowshipped members over disputes about old teachings and practices, go back through the files your church kept on those members and refresh your memory.  Then seek them out to apologize.  To the best of your ability, make things right with them.
    .
  • Pursue total honesty and openness with respect to church finances.  Publish a detailed budget report and make it available to all members.  Don’t be vague in any way.  Members have the right to know the precise amount of total compensation each pastor earns.  Members also have the right to know other aspects of church money matters, things like how much their church pays to the Sovereign Grace Ministries organization, how much money is donated to the needy in their community, how much is spent on travel and conference fees for pastors, how much is given as honorariums to guest speakers like C.J. Mahaney.
    .
  • Seek out meaningful formal accountability that flows from pastors to the congregation.  Stop trying to rationalize SGM’s pyramid-style polity as “more biblical” and instead understand how badly it contradicts what SGM supposedly believes about the priesthood of all believers and the innate sinful tendencies of all human beings, pastors included.   Realize that it’s simply too great a temptation for most people, no matter how godly, to be given virtually unchecked power over financial decisions.
    .
    Also understand how easy it can be for pastors to lose touch with the financial reality of the outside world.  It is not normal, for example, to receive severance pay when one voluntarily quits a job.  Create a way for your SGM congregation to nominate and vote for a committee that would provide formal accountability and real-world checks and balances.
    .
  • When the Ambassadors Of Reconciliation issue their report, publish it – unedited.  Make it available to everybody.  Anything less will simply perpetuate SGM’s long history of seeming to be more concerned about its image than about the truth.

Perhaps some of you can add to this list of potential New Year’s resolutions for Sovereign Grace Ministries?

© 2012, Kris. All rights reserved.